A sliver of land bordered by Florida, Bellevue and Pacific avenues is hardly worth looking at.
Plastic bags are tangled in overgrown weeds, an ugly chainlink fence surrounds the property and a “No Trespassing” sign warns intruders they will be prosecuted.
Despite its oceanfront location, the 2.5-acre site remains empty, a stark symbol of a development project that never materialized in Atlantic City’s struggling real estate market.
But there are plans to bring this barren canvas alive by transforming it into a public arts park that will debut Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the peak summer tourist season.
The Atlantic City Alliance, a casino-funded marketing coalition that promotes tourism, will use an acclaimed New York architectural couple to design the $2 million arts project.
Husband-and-wife architectural team Tod Williams and Billie Tsien displayed their artistic design talents by crafting the new Philadelphia home of the Barnes Foundation collection of Impressionist art.
Williams and Tsien will collaborate with New York arts curator Lance Fung to revitalize the plot of land at Florida, Bellevue and Pacific. It will be the latest Artlantic project in Atlantic City funded by the alliance and the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The project has a dual purpose: to beautify blighted property and serve as a tourist attraction.
“Art and culture are a strong lure in the leisure segment,” said Liza Cartmell, president of the alliance.
The agency, which receives $30 million in funding annually from the casinos, is the marketing organization that developed the widely publicized “Do AC” ad campaign. While the alliance’s forte is promotion and marketing, it has also helped fund a series of civic improvements in Atlantic City, including projects that are part of the Artlantic series.
Last year, the alliance and the CRDA teamed up for two tourist-friendly public art displays.
The largest one occupies the former site of the Sands Casino Hotel, overlooking the Boardwalk between Indiana Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It features a gently rolling landscape, sculpture work and inspirational messages. The second arts site is a splashy display of geometric shapes at California Avenue and the Boardwalk.
The alliance has given a sneak preview of the design for the new arts project between Florida and Bellevue, but is not ready to publicly release architectural renderings. It will consist of a community garden complemented by two main structures. One structure is a canopy-topped enclosure, the other is a stairwaylike viewing stand that will allow people to enjoy the ocean vista.
“We will provide elevation for views over the dunes,” Cartmell said.
The land is privately owned by developer and homebuilder Bruce E. Toll, who is allowing the alliance to use it temporarily for the arts project, Cartmell said. Toll’s BET Investments development firm, of Horsham, Pa., acquired the site in 2005 for $25 million. The company once planned to build high-rise luxury condominiums on the property but did not start construction.
Toll’s project was among a number of upscale condo developments that were formally announced or discussed for Atlantic City in recent years, but were never built after the real estate market plunged in the recession.
Michael Markman, BET Investments president, did not return a message Thursday seeking comment. Cartmell stressed that Toll has donated the land with the understanding that the arts project would be removed if his company moves ahead with development plans.
In 2005, Toll also gained control of the former site of the Trump World’s Fair Casino adjacent to Boardwalk Hall, the city’s main sports and concert arena. Trump World’s Fair closed in 1999 and was demolished, leaving an empty lot. That still-vacant property, though, will not be part of the arts project next door between Florida and Bellevue, alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino said.
Contact Donald Wittkowski: