A group of investors and developers headed by former NBA standout Shaquille O'Neal wants to build an entertainment complex in Atlantic City, local officials said Thursday.
The project would consist of seven-screen movie theater, bowling alley, roller-skating rink, restaurant, shops and parking areas on a long-vacant tract of land one block from the beach and Revel and Showboat casinos in the resort's South Inlet section, city Director of Planning & Development Keith Mills said Thursday.
Representatives from The O'Neal Group and Boraie Development were unreachable Thursday.
New Brunswick-based Boraie partnered with O'Neal on CityPlex 12, the result of a $7 million expansion of a movie theater in Newark. O’Neal, 40, grew up in the city and started investing in residential redevelopment, youth outreach programs and other community improvement initiatives there since long before his retirement last year from professional basketball.
During his two-decade career, the 7’1” center racked up four NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals and dozens of All-Star and other accolades — in addition to earning nearly $300 million, completing his bachelor’s degree and earning a master’s degree in business administration and doctorate in human studies.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford first spoke publicly about the project at an Atlantic City Council meeting Wednesday night, one week after he met with O'Neal and the others involved.
"They are serious about coming to Atlantic City," Langford said.
He also mentioned Regal Entertainment Group as a partner, but the theater chain—- which has a location in nearby Mays Landing — did not respond to inquiries.
Mills declined to name the other companies with a stake in the project.
The 7.9-acre grass lot slated to host the complex sits within the Atlantic City Tourism District and is the only portion remaining of the Uptown Urban Renewal Tract for which a redeveloper has not been named.
Originally 56 acres, the redevelopment zone was established 36 years ago by the municipal government, which named itself the redevelopment entity. That means Langford, his administration and City Council will pick the redeveloper.
In this case, that would be Boraie or a partner. The redevelopment designation provides tax breaks and other incentives to attract investors to areas where blight, crime, contamination or other adverse conditions impede economic growth.
The locally headquartered New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority took over planning and zoning responsibility in the Tourism District 18 months ago, but the city retains control of its redevelopment areas within the district.
Exactly how much autonomy the city has in those areas is unclear, however. If pursued, the family entertainment complex would test the process for redevelopment within the district. And city and CRDA officials seem to differ on how they think that should go.
In the past, the CRDA has acted as the redevelopment entity for projects such as The Walk Outlets and The Wave parking garage. In those and other such scenarios, city officials reviewed CRDA plans and made recommendations — but did not have the power to reject them so long as they stuck to the redevelopment plan previously approved by the municipality, Mills said.
City planning officials, for example, advised CRDA officials to establish certain traffic patterns around The Wave. Because the city’s redevelopment plan did not specify those traffic patterns, however, the CRDA did not include them in The Wave’s final design, nor did it have to.
Mills said he expected the reverse to be true now: that CRDA only would review and make recommendations about plans.
CRDA officials see things a bit differently, however.
“Although zoned for redevelopment prior to establishment of the Tourism District, all land-use approvals still would have to come through CRDA,” spokeswoman Kim Butler said.
When asked whether the CRDA supports the general concept of building a family entertainment complex in the South Inlet, Butler said the agency would have to “wait until someone approaches us with the general concept” before answering.
“We knew the mayor was in talks with a development group, but we were not privy to those discussions,” she said.
But the agency would regard “seeing signs of development in general” in Atlantic City as a positive thing, she said.
“CRDA's mission is redevelopment in Atlantic City, and as such, we're interested in meeting with developers to vet through concepts, and understanding what it would take to make a project viable,” she wrote in a follow-up email. “CRDA has targeted the South Inlet area for a mixed-use project and would be particularly interested to meet with the developer to gain a better understanding of their vision.”
The Atlantic City Housing Authority owns the land, which is known as Pauline's Prairie after former ACHA Executive Director Pauline Hill.
The ACHA and the municipal government have not gone public with plans for the property since Prestigious Homes abandoned its $14 million plan to build 252 upscale housing units there nearly three years ago.
ACHA Executive Director Pam James and Acting Director of Redevelopment Ira Fonorow did not respond to calls or emails Thursday.
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