ATLANTIC CITY — By next spring, crowds leaving events at Boardwalk Hall will no longer have to pass a vacant tract of land serving as a reminder of shuttered casinos.

A portion of the site that has been home to the Playboy Casino and Trump World’s Fair Casino will now house a compilation of upscale stores that developers say will capture business from tourists leaving sporting events and concerts at the nearby arena.

BET Investments broke ground Thursday on the 16,000-square-foot project. The Horsham, Pa., firm is headed by Bruce E. Toll, who co-founded luxury home-building giant Toll Brothers Inc.

BET Investments President Michael Markman said the company is in discussions with national and local tenants who will “up the ante” on the level of retail found on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. The company did not announce any specific retailers for the development, which is expected to be completed in March or April 2015.

Toll purchased the L-shaped site that’s been vacant for roughly 14 years at a bankruptcy auction in 2005 at a price of $25 million. Initial plans called for building luxury condominiums, but those plans were scrapped when the housing market declined.

Markman acknowledged the initial plans Thursday, saying the market still isn’t ready to support a high-rise residential building. The company, however, hopes that the new development will spur more activity on the Boardwalk and perhaps lead to the company developing the remainder of the 2.5-acre site.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian echoed that thought congratulating the company on its investment but adding that he will be even happier if he is ever standing at a groundbreaking for what he hopes will be “a very, very large building” behind the retail site.

“Any time we can get additional retail and restaurants in the city, creating jobs and paying taxes, it’s a good thing,” Guardian said.

Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director John Palmieri noted that the development is particularly important to the southern portion of the Boardwalk approaching Downbeach. Just past the site is Tropicana Atlantic City Casino and Resort, which will soon begin a $35 million renovation project that will include design and lighting improvements on the Boardwalk as well as a light and sound show.

Palmieri said the new development will be a “tremendous anchor” for the portion of the Boardwalk.

The site was first home to the Playboy Casino in 1981. The building then became the Atlantis casino hotel and then the Trump Regency Hotel before it closed as the Trump World's Fair Casino in 1999. The site has been vacant since the World's Fair was demolished shortly after its closing.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.