Talk of building an indoor marketplace in Atlantic City has officials and business owners envisioning an operation that could bring Jersey Fresh produce, meats and flowers together with well-known resort eateries.
Past projects led by the firm the state has selected to study the idea, however, indicate that the concept has the potential to go far beyond the traditional definition of a market, and could even spur additional development.
Portland, Maine-based Market Ventures Inc., a specialty urban planning and development firm, was selected by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority earlier this year to further develop the idea intended for a 3-acre tract of land across from Bally’s Atlantic City. The $100,000 study will commence next month.
The firm’s most recent project, a public market in Grand Rapids, Mich., set to open this summer, yielded what the company describes as a cutting-edge facility mixing a traditional market with a rooftop greenhouse, an event space capable of accommodating weddings and business meetings, a shared commercial kitchen operated in conjunction with local universities, and a microbrewery. A separate demonstration kitchen is designed for children, where cooking surfaces can be adjusted to the height of 6-year-olds.
Market Ventures President Ted Spitzer stressed that no two public markets are alike, and what worked for Grand Rapids may not work for Atlantic City. Still, the Michigan complex — a three-story, glass-paneled building constructed for $30 million on 3.5 acres of land — points to the wide range of possibilities for a market in the resort.
“We’re not trying to take an idea from any other place and plop it down in Atlantic City. It’s going to be a process that requires a lot of digging into what happens locally,” Spitzer said. “That process will be interesting and unique to Atlantic City, particularly because of the tourist trade.”
Grand Rapids’ concept is not devoid of tourist influence. The city, the second largest in Michigan, draws tourists primarily from the Chicago area but has nowhere near the tourism industry of Atlantic City. Instead, a group of business leaders and philanthropists went to Spitzer’s firm looking to build a marketplace that could be a downtown attraction — much like Atlantic City’s request.
And also like Atlantic City, Grand Rapids is an area hungering for revitalization, Spitzer said. The market there was built in the middle of a neighborhood filled with vacant warehouses. An economic impact analysis of the site, adjacent to a park, determined that the market could create 1,300 jobs in the region with $775 million of economic impact over 10 years.
What Spitzer’s firm didn’t project, however, was how quickly the effects would be seen. Already, plans have developed for new restaurants and coffee shops, a bus line and new apartments converted from old warehouse space.
An outcome like that would exceed the CRDA’s expectations for the project. For now, the authority is looking for confirmation that the idea is on the right track, CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said.
“We need to know how viable, not just if it’s marginally viable,” Palmieri said. “We need to get the right vendors who can support themselves here and make a buck and know that people are going to come here for this attraction.”
In Atlantic City, the concept has most often been compared to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, a massive site with more than 80 merchants referred to as one of the most successful public markets in the country. Paul Steinke, general manager of Reading Terminal Market, is also a senior associate for Market Ventures.
“Reading Terminal is special both for its size and for its history. Those are the two things you probably can’t have,” Spitzer said. “Reading has a strong customer base that attracts people from the entire region. That’s an important thing you can’t have on day one, but the challenge is how do you make it successful from the very beginning?”
Local business owners said they’re intrigued by the idea and are waiting to hear more about the setup. Still, most aren’t sold on considering vendor status until they know more.
White House Sub Shop on Arctic Avenue had success opening a second location two years ago at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, but owner Brian Conley said it would be a matter of ensuring the business didn’t overextend itself.
“If it’s a place that’s managed well and set up well like Reading market, it could work. I’m not saying we wouldn’t consider it, but we’re trying not to get overextended,” Conley said.
Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica, who owns Formica Brothers Bakery, called the market plan “a step in the right direction” but questioned decisions made about its location.
Despite previous statements by the CRDA that five locations were up for consideration, earlier this month the agency agreed to use a site bordered by Ohio, Indiana, Atlantic and Pacific avenues, barring any unforeseen problems. The location was selected as part of a deal between Caesars Entertainment and the CRDA that developed when Caesars agreed to contribute $9.5 million toward the market. Caesars, the parent company of Bally’s, Caesars, Showboat and Harrah’s Resort, owns the site directly across from Bally’s and will convey it to the CRDA.
The site is between the foot of the city’s outlet development and the Boardwalk. Formica said he would have preferred another location said to be under consideration: the parking lot on Arctic Avenue across from Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern that’s operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
“It would have been contiguous with The Walk. It’s safe. I just would have preferred they chose a different location,” Formica said. “I would have liked to have seen it more in the center of the city, but who knows? I’ve been wrong about these things before.”
Spitzer’s firm will begin it’s research next month, and Palmieri has said that with an aggressive timetable, bids for construction could be out this summer.
Chris Tarsitano, owner of Tony’s Baltimore Grill in the city’s Chelsea section, said he has no doubt that the concept could succeed in the city.
“Anything they can do to develop the city is a plus. So many areas are downtrodden and dangerous,” he said. “I’m for anything that promotes business and makes this city vibrant again.”
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