A diverse series of housing developments planned for Atlantic City will attract new residents, provide better homes for low-income locals and build the city’s tax base, Planning Director Elizabeth Terenik said.
Speaking at a filled-to-capacity meeting Wednesday, Terenik also discussed a suite of tax incentives provided by the city, county and state, which she said will make homeownership more attainable and encourage future development.
The plans will help the city increase its population by 10,000 residents, boost homeownership rates from 30 percent to 50 percent, and raise the city’s median income from $30,000 to $50,000, Terenik said.
“Atlantic City is too valuable to fail,” she said. “We know we’re going to redevelop ourselves. The only question is, what are we going to look like?”
Terenik was joined by several of the developers behind the projects, who discussed the status of their properties and took questions from the public.
Atlantic City Council President Frank M. Gilliam, who attended the meeting, asked them what they saw in the city that made it worth their investment.
“A blank canvas,” said John Longacre, president of Philadelphia-based LPMG Companies, which plans to turn the Morris Guards Armory on New York Avenue into a condo and retail building.
“My whole life, Atlantic City’s been handcuffed to the casinos,” Longacre said, adding that the city now “has the very rare opportunity to reinvent itself.”
About 6.6 million baby boomers live within a three-hour drive of the city, according to statistics compiled by Richard Perniciaro, vice president of Atlantic Cape Community College’s Planning, Research and Facilities Department. The city could offer those individuals second homes, Terenik said.
Another 181,000 people age 20 and 40 live in that zone, according to Perniciaro’s numbers, a group that includes members of the millennial generation who are looking for quality housing in urban areas.
Among the projects discussed, the luxury end of the spectrum was occupied by The Breakers at 4100 Atlantic Ave. It aims to construct 136 condo units starting at less than $1 million, with oceanfront townhomes selling for about $1.5 million each.
The project stalled last year, as buyers backed out in the face of rising property taxes, according to builder Joseph V. Zarelli. But City Council recently passed a tax-abatement bill freezing annual taxes for the units at about $16,800, he said, making them much more attractive. Zarelli said the first group of homes will be completed by March, with more to follow.
The Beach at South Inlet, a 250-unit housing development to be constructed by New Brunswick-based Boraie Development LLC, will break ground this spring, according to company heads. Eighty percent of those units will be market rate, with 20 percent reserved for low-income residents. Completion is tentatively set for the fall of 2016.
LPMG plans to put between 29 and 35 market-price condos into the Morris Guards Armory, with retail space on the first floor. Longacre said that construction will begin in March, and will take up to 14 months, though he hopes to move tenants into the top floors while construction continues below them.
Longacre said his market is young professionals with a high standard of living who want to live in an urban setting. Atlantic City, he said, lacks properties catering to that group. Rents will range from $800 to $1,200 per month, he said.
Two developments will specifically target residents making 60 percent or less of the area median income, with a top priority placed on those displaced by Hurricane Sandy.
The Meadows, near Maryland and Mediterranean avenues, will consist of 90 units. The property is being constructed by Conifer LLC. Construction has already begun, and should be completed within 18 months, according to Sam Leone, Conifer’s vice president of development.
And Tennessee Green, to be built on Tennessee Avenue by Montclair-based RPM Development Group, will feature 65 units with rent ranging from $521 to $900 per month, depending on their size. RPM is applying for funding, according to company vice president Brendan McBride. It if comes through, construction should begin this summer, he said, and would be completed by the fall of 2016.
At the speculative edge, the stately but vacant Columbus Hotel at the corner of Pacific Avenue and St. James Place is ripe for development, according to Nicholas Conti, project manager for Ned Sakhai, who owns the building. Conti said plans have been drawn up to put 64 units in the building, as well as 20,000 square feet of retail space and a glass-enclosed rooftop sitting area.
Conti said Sakhai doesn’t want to handle the project himself, but is looking to sell the property for $2.5 million.
Business owner Mindy Solkin, who attended the talk, recently moved to Atlantic City from New York. She said the city should encourage Ventnor and Margate homeowners to encourage their children to move to the city.
“If you give the kids this fabulous place to live, they’ll bring their friends, and it will grow,” Solkin said.
Sandy Bressler, 66, recently moved to Atlantic City from Philadelphia.
“Who wouldn’t want to?” she said, citing the “gorgeous environment,” along with the city’s “fresh air” and “gorgeous ocean.”
Dean R. Robateau, vice president of Philadelphia-based development company McKissack and McKissack, said his firm was very interested in the local market.
“Atlantic City has two things that most towns don’t have — a beach and a boardwalk,” he said after Terenik’s presentation, adding that “we absolutely see the same market potential” she discussed.
Atlantic City realtor Joshua Levin was similarly bullish.
“Atlantic City for the right demographic is a special place to live,” he said. “When they transform everything, it will be a special place for all demographics.”
But Perniciaro was more skeptical. He noted that baby boomers need to feel safe before they move into an area. Crime statistics are falling, but the city must improve its reputation in that area, he said.
Perniciaro was very skeptical of the high-end homebuyers The Breakers is hoping to attract. He said that interested parties could spend $1.5 million on a home in Margate instead of a townhome.
“I just think there’s not a big market for what they’re doing,” he said.
And he said that millennials and young professionals expect more than attractive housing options when deciding where to move. They need jobs, too, and seek enticing, livable neighborhoods. The city is working to create both, he said, but that process is in its early stages.
“I like the idea of the Armory (development),” he said, but added that “there still needs to be a neighborhood with a critical mass that works. Creating that by a little nibble here, a little nibble there is very hard to do.”
Atlantic City, he said, must ensure its housing developments fit into a “grander plan” that will provide the many other needs potential occupants desire.
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