CAMDEN — The new buyer of Revel Casino-Hotel plans to transform the shuttered Boardwalk complex into a megaresort that would feature a huge water park, high-speed ferry service from Manhattan and some gambling.
Glenn Straub, a Florida real estate developer, sketched out his grand vision for Revel’s rebirth Thursday after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approved a final order authorizing the casino’s sale to him for $95.4 million.
“We’re going to spend lots and lots of money beyond the sale price,” Straub told The Press of Atlantic City.
The Revel name will be removed from the building as part of a rebranding of the property. Straub said he plans to sell the naming rights to the casino to generate extra cash for what would be a sprawling attraction combining family-friendly amenities with some adults-only gambling action.
The centerpiece of his redevelopment plan would be a $108 million water park, described by Straub as the largest of its kind in the world. The water park would be both inside and outside the building to create a year-round attraction. He said he is already working on architectural renderings for the project.
Straub stressed it will be important for Atlantic City to add more year-round attractions as it transitions from a casino-centric town to a more diversified tourist destination featuring resort-style amenities. The city hopes to develop more nongambling attractions to help pull it out of an epic economic crisis that claimed four casinos last year, including Revel.
“You’ve got to extend the time period for the resort,” Straub said of the city’s overall strategy to attract tourists beyond the summer.
To that end, Straub wants to turn Revel’s casino-hotel complex and surrounding property into a resort-style playground for families and adults. He spoke broadly of adding concerts, laser shows, amateur sports and polo facilities. Straub is a polo enthusiast.
He also divulged that he plans to tap the lucrative New York feeder market by running high-speed ferries or catamarans between Atlantic City and Manhattan. Ferries would be a new way to bring customers to Revel and the city at large.
Straub’s redevelopment plan would not stop at Revel’s property line. He said he also wants to help redevelop the surrounding South Inlet neighborhood, but disclosed no details.
The South Inlet’s redevelopment would likely be done in concert with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency that uses revenue from the casino industry for housing projects and economic development.
The CRDA was represented at Thursday’s bankruptcy hearing in attempts to enforce a restrictive covenant giving it ultimate control of the reinvestment funds that Straub’s casino would generate. Straub, though, wants to have final say in the use of those funds for his development projects.
During a break in Thursday’s hearing, Straub conferred privately with CRDA attorney Patrick McAuley. Afterward, McAuley said the CRDA will continue to seek approval for “sole discretion” over how the redevelopment funds would be used.
Stuart Moskovitz, Straub’s attorney, told U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Gloria Burns that Straub believes he can do a better job than the CRDA in redeveloping the South Inlet.
“It’s no secret, it’s not a surprise to anyone, that Atlantic City didn’t turn out like it was supposed to,” Moskovitz said. “The fact of the matter is, Atlantic City hasn’t done well in the last 35 years.”
Burns, giving Straub a victory, ruled he can buy the property “free and clear” of the agreement Revel had with the CRDA as well as the leases Revel had with the restaurants, nightclubs and other tenants in the building.
Without the CRDA’s restrictive covenant in place, Straub can decide what to do with the reinvestment funds he pays to the authority. By law, Atlantic City’s casinos are obligated to pay the CRDA a 1.25 percent tax on their gross gambling revenue for redevelopment projects.
Straub, meanwhile, still must formally close the deal to complete his purchase of Revel. A closing date has not yet been announced, but Straub emphasized that he wants to reopen a portion of the rebranded Revel in time for the summer.
Under Straub’s makeover plan, the casino will not be the heart of the operation. He said the casino floor would encompass less than half of the megaresort, underscoring his intention for more nongambling attractions.
“We want to be known as a resort,” Straub said.
Revel, which cost $2.4 billion to build, was marketed as a posh resort when it opened in April 2012 amid hopes it would be a “game-changer” for the struggling Atlantic City casino market. However, it never turned a profit, languishing near the bottom of the casino industry’s revenue figures month after month.
Revel’s sale to Straub caps a turbulent period that began with the casino’s shutdown over Labor Day weekend. A bankruptcy auction followed, resulting in a $110 million bid from Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management. Straub’s company, Polo North Country Club Inc., which had been the second-highest bidder at $95.4 million, stepped in when the Brookfield deal collapsed.
Although Burns entered a final order confirming a sale price of $95.4 million, Straub is looking to buy Revel even cheaper. He is seeking to have the purchase price lowered to the $90 million bid that he initially offered.
Brookfield cited a dispute with bondholders over debt from the construction of Revel’s costly power plant as the reason for dropping out of the sale. The owners of the ACR Energy Partners power plant have threatened to turn off the electricity, leaving Revel in the dark, unless they are paid.
Straub said there is no imminent danger that the electricity will be cut off. In the meantime, he is talking to representatives of the power plant in attempts to reach a settlement.
Contact Donald Wittkowski: