mbca tourism district plan

CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri gives a detailed presentation Monday of Tourism District Master Plan at the MCBA luncheon at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Danny Drake

ATLANTIC CITY — Bader Field may one day host waterfront homes, shops and offices built with an emphasis on sustainable design and green technology, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director John Palmieri said.

“Several thousand new residents, new walkways, access to the water, public parks,” Palmieri said. “Think about what that could be. It’s surrounded by water and it’s right off the highway. It would be exceptional, but the economy has to create the demand for that kind of housing.”

Palmieri spoke Monday afternoon during a luncheon hosted by the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association at Resorts Atlantic City. He focused on what people can expect to see this summer as a result of Atlantic City Tourism District initiatives, but also touched on longer-term goals like developing Bader Field.

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The CRDA launched the Tourism District last spring in response to legislation effective nearly 14 months ago aimed at reviving the resort. Those laws also required CRDA officials to come up with a Master Plan, which the agency’s board approved Feb. 1.

The plan sets out a few long-term concepts, meaning they would be realized five or 10 years from now.

One of those centered on Bader Field, a 143-acre municipal airport that closed in 2006 and was formerly billed as a $1 billion site best suited for another casino by Atlantic City officials, acting on advise from international real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle, or JLL.

Four years later, the Chicago-based JLL headed up the four-firm team responsible for compiling the Tourism District Master Plan. As part of that, they considered Bader Field and came up with a different answer.

The property should continue to host festivals, concerts and other events during the next five years or so, JLL’s team found.

That will give the other, shorter-term initiatives time to boost the city’s visitor count, economy and, therefore, the value of Bader Field and other tracts in the resort. And within the next decade, the city should line up a developer for a housing and retail complex that highlights bayfront views and water-based activities, meanwhile meeting sustainable design standards with features such as green roofs to reduce heat around the complex and a stormwater management system to recycle precipitation, according to the master plan.

“Longer-term usage, as we view it, is to make it into a new neighborhood for Atlantic City, where mixed uses prevail, where affordable housing is part of the mix, where environmental and green technologies prevail, where water views are protected and access to outdoor public spaces are protected,” Palmieri said Monday.

The consulting team suggested building another resort, likely with a casino component, at Bader some time after 2013, according to the master plan.

Any development, however, will require extensive investment in utility and transportation infrastructure, Palmieri acknowledged later. Also, any sale of the bayside parcel would have to get approval from state lawmakers if the price exceeds the city budget.

The Tourism District Master Plan mentions improving bus service along Route 40, but nothing beyond that.

But the CRDA’s 2009 Atlantic City Regional Transportation Plan estimated that would cost $175 million to expand, realign and otherwise improve Route 40/322 and the Albany Avenue bridge in front of Bader Field.

That figure likely would be lower because previous calculations assumed Bader Field would host a megacasino.

Mayor Lorenzo Langford did not respond Monday to calls or emails seeking comment.

But the mixed-use concept Palmieri spoke of matches what the Langford administration is working toward, said Keith Mills, director of city planning and development.

“It’s unlikely that in today’s market that a casino interest is going to want to invest in that site knowing the priority of the city and the (CRDA) is to focus on the Boardwalk for the next few years,” Mills said. “Luring the master developer to the table is still going to be a key component of future development. And that’s what Silk & Associates is trying to do, still trying to bring the big boys to the table.”

As for the previous report, the economy has changed drastically since then and explains the different advice to go with residential and retail first, delaying resort and gambling, Mills said.

Even four years ago, when the gaming market was still healthy, the costs to development baseline infrastructure for the city-owned property were “staggering” — and, therefore, prohibitive, he said.

“One of the factors that couldn’t get developers over the hump was lack of traffic access,” Mills said. “Therein lies the impediment to (developing) Bader Field.”

Previously, Mills and others envisioned engaging the state in a public-private partnership much like Revel’s $270 million tax rebate over 20 years as provided by the State Economic Development Authority’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant.

It would be up to the developer to crunch the numbers and demonstrate a financial shortfall before any public money would come into play, Palmieri said.

All of that, however, is a long way off.

Smaller changes will be noticeably by this summer, such as the 244 new street lights, an army of new red-and-white rolling chairs and 60 ambassadors charged with assisting visitors, addressing quality of life issues.

The 60 ambassadors will hit the street April 30, working 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the Boardwalk and Pacific and Atlantic avenues, CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler said.

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