Atlantic City says an Entertainment City complex built around the casino industry could foster a performing arts, recreational and residential renaissance at the former Bader Field airport site.
While specific plans have not been formulated, the city on Monday unveiled a development framework for the 140-acre site that compares Atlantic City to Venice, Denmark and San Antonio, Texas, in terms of its potential to redevelop itself by maximizing its proximity to the water.
"Cities such as Venice in Italy, the canal communities of Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, and RiverWalk in San Antonio are all examples of cities that have effectively combined waterfront amenities with economic prosperity and a high quality of life for the residents," the city's planning staff wrote in an outline of the proposal.
It finds Atlantic City walking a fine line between its urgent efforts to diversify its economy and add more non-gambling attractions while not closing the door on the possibility of adding a casino at the site. Atlantic City originally envisioned as many as three new casinos in 2009, but that was before its casino industry started shrinking. Four of the city's 12 casinos, including the $2.4 billion Revel, closed last year.
The proposal does not explicitly say whether a casino should go there or not. If one is placed at the site, it should be designed to develop an interconnected community, officials said.
"We are using input from the public so they feel like they can have ownership in these projects and be part of shaping Atlantic City's future," Mayor Don Guardian said. "This is not only a great place to vacation but it's also a great place to live."
The plan envisions a waterfront community with commercial development, a marina district, parklands, residential development, and entertainment facilities in addition to housing.
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Bader Field is where the term "airport" was coined; it was the first aviation facility to use the term. It closed in 2006.
A minor league baseball stadium operated on the site from 1998 until 2009. Aside from an ice hockey rink, the site has been largely empty since then but for the occasional heavy metal or rap concert.
The site is one of the largest development parcels on the East Coast near the ocean, and the plan is centered on waterfront access and uses. It is about four blocks from the ocean, near what used to be the Atlantic Club casino (before it shut down last year). Possible features include a marina and boat ramp; a waterfront promenade for jogging, walking and fishing; parks; a supermarket; sports fields and an indoor recreation center with basketball courts and a pool; a movie theater and restaurants; and a performing arts center.
It's designed to be walkable — and it would be elevated to protect against flooding as it's surrounded by water on three sides.
The city has similar if less ambitious plans for Gardner's Basin at the opposite end of the city, where the Atlantic City Aquarium is located. Plans call for an expansion of the aquarium; an amphitheater; shopping; and a fishing pier or promenade.