ATLANTIC CITY — Casino regulators agreed Wednesday to allow developers of a Hard Rock hotel and casino until September to start their proposed oceanfront project because of delays in securing environmental permits.
The Casino Control Commission voted 3-0 to extend the deadlines for posting a $1 million bond, as well as work start and completion targets for the $465 million project.
The original deadline for AC Gateway LLC to post the bond was today, but with the commission vote it is Sept. 12.
Before posting the bond, the company wants to have CAFRA permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the project, which is slated for the Atlantic City Boardwalk at the foot of Route 40/Albany Avenue, said Nicholas Casiello, attorney for AC Gateway.
The permit issue centers on plans for 35,000 square feet of amenities on the ocean side of the Boardwalk. Right now, piers and temporary structures such as beach bars are the only development on the beach in Atlantic City and elsewhere along the South Jersey coast.
“We knew we were being aggressive — it’s an aggressive brand,” said architect Tom Sykes. “While there’s historic precedent, it’s going to take some time to demonstrate that precedent.”
Sykes said he expects to file an updated application for the CAFRA permit in April, a process that normally takes 90 days.
“We feel they are largely compliant, but we requested (more) design and technical details,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. “That’s the information we’re waiting for.”
The extension granted Wednesday by the CCC not only pushes back the bond posting deadline six months, but also those for construction start and completion. That means the opening date goal is now January 2015 — so long as everything else falls into place, Casiello said.
“I wish I could say this project is a done deal, but I can’t say that yet,” Casiello said. “We are working to move this project forward.”
Once AC Gateway secures its CAFRA permit, the company must get approval from the city government because the site sits within a redevelopment area. It also falls in the Atlantic City Tourism District, meaning the project also needs clearance from the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which handles development and planning in the Tourism District under state laws effective 13 months ago.
The Federal Aviation Administration will review the project, too, because one of two towers planned will reach more than 400 feet. The shorter one will rise about 250 feet, Sykes said.
Hard Rock intends to build its parking garage on an adjacent property once home to the old Atlantic City High School. A skybridge over Albany Avenue would connect the hotel-casino to the 3,868-space garage, which traffic would leave and enter through an underground tunnel to minimize potential congestion around the busy highway that brings drivers onto Absecon Island in the Chelsea section of the city.
Hard Rock is one of two casinos allowed to participate in a boutique casino pilot program created by state legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a former mayor of the resort.
Meant to foster investment in the wake of the recession, the program allows approved casinos to open with just 200 rooms instead of the 500 normally required — with the understanding that developers must expand to reach that benchmark within 5 years.
Plans call for Hard Rock to open with 208 rooms and expand to 850 rooms total, said CCC Chair Linda Kassekert.
Kassekert noted the tax revenue on the $32.7 million site and new jobs — 2,000 during construction, and 1,500 permanently — inherent with the new casino being developed by AC Gateway. The company is a partnership between New York-based Och-Ziff Capital Management and Florida’s Seminole Indian tribe, which owns Hard Rock.
“It is the kind of project that will create new excitement here,” Kassekert said.
Contact Emily Previti: