ATLANTIC CITY - More retail, restrooms and an element of live entertainment are being planned for The Walk, the collection of outlet shops and restaurants that turned a blighted area of the resort into a shopping hot spot.
The project's developer joined city and gaming industry officials on Tuesday for a ceremonial shoveling of dirt to signify the start of the third phase of construction - about 45,000 square feet of retail space that will add a dozen new stores to the more than 80 shops and restaurants already there.
David S. Cordish, chairman of the Baltimore-based Cordish Co., also gave more details about a proposed fourth phase at The Walk - called Atlantic City Live! - that would stray from retail and instead offer live entertainment, such as nightclubs, comedy clubs, bowling alleys or outdoor concerts.
While the design details are still being worked out, Cordish said, Atlantic City Live! would be fashioned after other Cordish brands: Power Plant Live! in Baltimore, Fourth Street Live! in Louisville, Ky., and KC Live! in Kansas City, Mo.
"Atlantic City has reinvented itself a couple of times, and it's going to do it again," Cordish said at the groundbreaking, which was held on the block where The Walk will be expanded.
The site is currently open space, and is bordered by Christopher Columbus Boulevard and Fairmount, Mississippi and Arctic avenues, near the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway.
Construction of the the third phase of The Walk will cost $15 million, of which $9 million will be funded by a loan from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The CRDA also is planning to build a $30 million parking garage at the corner of Fairmount and Mississippi avenues, adjacent to the third phase. But the 1,200-space garage is not expected to be completed until early 2011.
In the meantime, about 400 construction jobs would be created from The Walk expansion, according to Cordish. He expects another 400 permanent jobs to come to The Walk after new stores start shuffling in - possibly as soon as the end of next summer.
Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford, who also was mayor when The Walk first opened six years ago, said at Tuesday's ceremony that the expansion is a positive sign for the resort during this economic downturn.
The local gaming industry is moving toward its third straight year of revenue declines and faces even stiffer competition as other neighboring states look to introduce table games. Offering more to do in Atlantic City has been a rally cry for years among city and casino officials.
"This is the stimulus to give the gaming industry here something to fight back with," Cordish said of a continually growing retail and entertainment district in Atlantic City.
The Walk has been on firm footing here since introducing national retailers - Nautica, Nike, Calvin Klein - at factory outlet prices that appeal to consumers. It has attracted restaurant chains such as Applebee's and Ruth's Chris Steak House. And even hip-hop mogul Jay-Z decided to open another version of his 40/40 Club along Atlantic Avenue in 2005.
Cordish described its success as "phenomenal." Its sales per square foot average about $500, he said.
In 2008, the average outlet retailer earned $301 per square foot, according to Value Retail News, an outlet mall trade publication.
A few stores, such as KB Toys, Casual Corner Annex and Borders have closed at The Walk, but Cordish said it was due to their parent companies' financial troubles.
Another shopping and restaurant complex in Atlantic City, the upscale Pier Shops at Caesars, however, is having difficulties. The Pier's majority owner, Taubman Centers Inc., said last month it wants to end its mortgage obligations with its lenders because it doesn't think it can generate enough cash to pay off its debts on the property.
The Walk, meanwhile, is dealing with a problem of a different sort: the need for public restrooms. The city Planning Board said last month that the third phase needs to incorporate bathrooms for the public, which are currently lacking.
Planning Director William Crane said the board will review the amended plan at its Oct. 21 meeting.
But a lack of public bathrooms has not kept shoppers such as Jed Ferrante from making The Walk a regular pit stop when visiting Atlantic City. The Oxford, Conn., man said Tuesday that more stores and attractions would be a greater incentive for coming to the resort.
"We'd much rather drive four hours and come here," said Ferrante, sitting outside the Harley Davidson store, "than go an hour (to the casinos) closer to home."
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