ATLANTIC CITY — Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein views Showboat as a work in progress, one with unrealized potential beyond its current use as a hotel he re-opened this summer.
“By opening it we now have a better idea of what the property can do,” Blatstein said. “We will be able to take what we learn and apply it for the future. It’s an amazing property.”
Blatstein purchased the more than 1.4 million-square-foot property in January for $23 million and has yet to say his exact plans for the former casino hotel, which was closed for two years and reopened with no gambling.
Blatstein is no stranger to turning properties around. He helped transform Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties section by developing mixed-use buildings with retail and live entertainment under one roof.
“Right now, I’m spending 90 percent of my business time in Atlantic City,” Blatstein said. “I’ve fallen in love with the city.”
In addition to the redevelopment of Showboat, Blatstein is looking to build a multimillion-dollar “multi-use event center” that will be part of Showboat on a 3-acre site that once was a public-access volleyball court.
While Blatstein touts the future of the property, some aren’t sold that a former casino property can be redeveloped for a different use.
“The question is, can someone rehab a casino property as a noncasino property?” said Bryant Simon, a professor of history at Temple University and the author of “Boardwalk of Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America.” “We got two shots at this right now. I don’t know how this works. Would you want to stay at the Showboat? Once the Taj (Mahal) is closed and the Revel (TEN) is closed, what is there to do? ”
The facility still has its iconic Mardi Gras theme. The first floor of the Worship Surf Bar is open in the evenings. A second restaurant, Atlantic City Eatery, offers three meals a day. There’s also a gym and coffee shop.
The property does not offer gambling but Blatstein has said it’s something that should not be ruled out in the future.
The property’s two towers — the Orleans and the Bourbon — as well as other amenities could lead to a variety of redevelopment options, said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University. The property also includes the former House of Blues and was once home to a 61-lane bowling alley.
“It’s a great property. It has outstanding features. There are two towers that can be separated,” Pandit said. “You could have a hotel tower and a residents’ tower. It’s a concept that the Ritz and Four Seasons have used successfully over the years. The residents would then have access to the hotel’s amenities, like pools, spas and restaurants.”
Mary Pendino, 78, of Newburgh, New York, said she remembers a time when the property was the place to be.
“It used to be my favorite property,” Pendino said. “I hope that he is able to turn it around. I think bringing back casino gaming would be a huge plus for it.”
James Edwards, 32, of Philadelphia, said he enjoyed his stay at the property.
“I think that they need to be bring back gambling. There is no gaming at this end of the Boardwalk,” Edwards said.
Blatstein purchased the former casino from Stockton University, which in turn had bought it from Caesars Entertainment, hoping to convert it into a satellite campus. Caesars Entertainment closed the still-profitable Showboat on Aug. 31, 2014, the second of four Atlantic City casinos to close that year.
“A few years back, the assessed value of Showboat was $1.16 billion. We paid $23 million for the property, and it was in great shape,” Blatstein said. “It’s larger than any hotel in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with it, but it’s going to be amazing.”