Developers and city leaders believe Atlantic City can entice a new group of young professionals to take up residence there, spurring the housing and economic development the city needs as it seeks to diversify its economy and grow its tax base.
The 2010 census found that 13.6 percent of the city’s population was between ages 25 and 34, the heart of the lucrative millennial demographic. By contrast, in Hoboken, a new haven for young adults, 38.3 percent of the 2010 population fell within that age range.
John J. Longacre, president of Philadelphia-based LPMG Properties, thinks Atlantic City can bring in young workers with the right residential and business investments.
“If I’m a 26-year-old kid living in Egg Harbor Township, I think I would rather be close to an urban environment, as opposed to living in Hamilton,” Longacre said.
Mark Callazzo, CEO of Alpha Funding Solutions, which owns the Iron Room and the Atlantic City Bottling Co., agrees.
“They’re all looking for an affordable, cool place to live in the city, and they would love to be able to take the Jitney to work,” he said of the city’s young employees. “I believe the market is there, and I just think somebody has to plunk some money down and take the first stab at it.”
Alpha and LPMG are two of the development companies interested in Atlantic City’s historic but vacant structures.
LPMG is working to finalize the purchase of the Morris Guards Armory on New York Avenue. Longacre said he wants to put 32 rehabbed apartments into the building, along with new first-floor businesses.
LPMG Companies, a developer known for reviving Philadelphia neighborhoods, plans to do the s…
Alpha is helping to finance that project. It also plans on purchasing the disused firehouse at Atlantic and Connecticut avenues, which will host another new set of residences and businesses.
New Brunswick-based Boraie Development LLC, which has built new housing developments there and in Newark, sees the same potential, though the company is taking a different approach.
“There is a strong pent-up demand from over 40 years (without) new private residential development,” said Wasseem Boraie, the company’s vice president.
“Taking old condominiums and trying to retrofit them, that gets a niche market,” he said. “You don’t get the mainstream market without new construction.”
This April, Boraie plans to break ground on a new 250-unit rental complex on the long-vacant Pauline’s Prairie tract, adjacent to the former Showboat Casino Hotel. Eighty percent of the units will be rented at market value, Boraie said, while 20 percent will be reserved for lower-income working residents.
ATLANTIC CITY — Construction will begin by year’s end on a $60 million apartment building th…
But despite their ambitions, the developers behind these projects are wrestling with the same challenge: Can Atlantic City provide the neighborhoods and cultural activity demanded by a year-round population of young workers?
“It’s the egg or the chicken,” said Mayor Don Guardian, who strongly supports the development efforts. Guardian’s office is planning a “millennial summit” early this year, inviting young residents to talk about their needs and propose ways of selling the city to their age group.
“They’re going to come to a place where they go to a coffee house they can walk to in the morning and a martini bar they can fall back to at night,” Guardian said. “We don’t have them yet, and we can’t get them until we get people moving in. But people don't want to move in until we have the things they’re looking for.”
Longacre, who agrees, argues that projects such as his will kick-start a virtuous cycle of “organic growth” in which local businesses will open to serve new residents, encouraging even more people to move in.
“We’re going to build an urban environment like we do in Philadelphia,” Longacre said, referring to the residential and commercial projects he’s led in South Philadelphia and other areas of the city undergoing transformation. “If we come down there with our model and it’s successful, others will follow.”
But Richard Perniciaro, director of Atlantic Cape Community College’s Center for Regional and Business Research, thinks Longacre’s plans must be complemented by major investors to work.
“At the end of the day, institutions are going to drive this,” he said. “If you’re going to wait for the bottom-up approach, it’s tough to get a foothold. I think you need a little more of a push, and that’s why Stockton’s important.”
Stockton University is in the process of turning the Showboat, which it purchased last year, into its future Atlantic City campus. Day classes will begin this summer, and residential students could move in starting in the fall, college President Herman Saatkamp has said.
City leaders are hoping that will promote a wave of South Inlet development.
“With the influx of both residential and day students, I think you can bring in the businesses that are going to play off of both,” Guardian said.
“I'm hoping students that come to Stockton are going to say, ‘I had a good time, and this would be a cool place for the next five or 10 years to live,’” he said. “Or, even better, they’re my next level of entrepreneurs that I’m begging for.”
Boraie sees a similar picture.
“Through Stockton creating a critical mass of academia there, it allows the retail to start opening as well,” he said, describing a potential phase two of his project.
Other institutional movers could prove impactful as well.
There has been discussion of a medical school coming to Atlantic City, a potential joint project among Stockton, Rowan University and AtlantiCare.
The Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, delayed for several years, could break ground this year.
And Guardian hopes Bart Blatstein, the new owner of The Pier Shops at Caesars and the man behind the redevelopment of Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, will bring businesses to the property that young professionals are drawn to.
“I hope he goes beyond just The Pier,” Guardian said. “I hope he starts looking at other property in Atlantic City and seeing that he could do here what he did in Philadelphia.”
Taken together, this suite of proposals and ongoing projects presents an optimistic vision that could see major demographic shifts redefine Atlantic City in the coming years. That, however, raises the thorny issue of gentrification, or whether the municipality aims to bring in young professionals at the expense of existing residents.
Perniciaro said that’s unlikely at this time. The city’s residential areas are separate from its major areas of development, he said, which will prevent potential conflicts.
“I think I'd be lying if I didn’t see the city gentrifying,” Guardian said, although he added that residents “shouldn’t see this as white in, black out.”
Atlantic City is attractive to those seeking diversity, he said, and will remain so. At the same time, he said the changes he envisions will be “good for everybody.”
“It’s going to be a better-educated, better-paid adult that’s going to be able to buy into the community,” Guardian said.
Contact John V. Santore: