ATLANTIC CITY — The South Inlet portion of the Boardwalk has sat mostly dark since the Trump Taj Mahal closed last year, but the opening of the Observation Wheel at the Steel Pier could signal the start of rebirth in the area.
The $14 million, 227-foot wheel, the third tallest in the country, is expected to be ready in October and will be the first of many projects that could turn the area around.
“Right now, it’s a rebirth,” Anthony Catanoso, Steel Pier president, said of the South Inlet section of the Boardwalk. “Everything around us has closed and is slowly reopening.”
With no gaming north of Resorts Casino Hotel, and Showboat reopened only as a hotel, that portion of the Boardwalk is barren with little in the way of attractions to draw people in.
But that is going to change with the Observation Wheel at Steel Pier set up in a couple of weeks and in summer 2018, when Hard Rock is expected to open a new property at the empty Taj Mahal in a plan to reinvigorate the darkest part of the Boardwalk.
“Hard Rock is a game changer, not only for the north end of town but for the city,” said Ken Calemmo, chief operating officer of Cooper Levenson and co-chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber. “They are a great operator with a great management and an international brand that will completely energize and step-up everyone’s game in the city.”
Catanoso said the addition of Hard Rock to that section of the Boardwalk will change both the city and the area.
“The reinvestment at this end of the Boardwalk is coming, and when it is complete, it will be the hub of the Boardwalk and the city,” Catanoso said.
Over the next year, Hard Rock International and investors Joe Jingoli and Jack Morris are expected to spend more than $500 million to renovate the property.
The project is expected to generate more than 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, according to Hard Rock. The new property will feature two separate arenas, with seating totaling 7,000, and more than 2,400 slot machines.
“My hope is that it is the start of a new resurgence going north along the Boardwalk that spreads to Showboat and Revel,” Calemmo said.
Discussion about the Observation Wheel started in 2011 after the Catanoso family purchased the pier from Trump Entertainment for $4.25 million. They had been leasing the pier from Trump Entertainment for 18 years before the sale.
“One of the goals was to have a year-round attraction, and the most logical choice was an observation wheel,” Catanoso said. “We can climate-control the cabins, and it is for people of all ages.”
The wheel, which was purchased in Italy, features 40 enclosed cars that take passengers on a 16-minute ride. It is expected to draw 50,000 riders per month to the take in views of the ocean and Atlantic City skyline from the gondolas.
“We are planning on teaming up with the gaming industry to offer bus trips during the winter time, Catanoso said.