Listen to people complain about Atlantic City, or read the doom-and-gloom articles that out-of-town reporters seem to love to write, and you'll notice a common theme:
The Walk outlet stores are invariably mentioned - and mentioned positively. Then they are quickly dismissed. As in: "Sure, The Walk is nice, but ..."
However, this eight block area of stores and restaurants - built by Baltimore-based developer David Cordish, with the first three phases of the development now owned by Tanger Factory Outlet Centers - deserves more than a half-hearted acknowledgment and then a quick dismissal, more than a "nice, but ..."
The Walk has transformed a major swath of the city. Its stores and restaurants are thriving. The stores at The Walk that belong to national chains often lead their companies in sales per square foot. The area is clean and well-maintained. On days when the rest of the city is somewhat empty, The Walk is crowded with happy shoppers.
And now, the coming of a Bass Pro Shops store should take The Walk to an even higher level.
Ground was broken last week for a mammoth 86,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops store that, in addition to a full selection of hunting, fishing and camping gear, will have elaborate aquariums, a restaurant, a bowling alley, and a boat showroom. The store will also have its own 170-space parking lot, in addition to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority's $30 million parking garage that opened at The Walk last year.
John Palmieri, the head of the CRDA, calls the more-than-$20-million store a "game-changer" for the city. That's a term that gets thrown around a lot, probably too much. But you know, add a "game-changer" here and a "game-changer" there, and well ... at some point you actually do change the game. Atlantic City has been seeking that critical mass for decades, and Bass Pro Shops is indeed a major step in that direction.
The store, which is scheduled to open by fall 2014 at Atlantic and Missouri avenues, is not coming cheap. The CRDA is providing a $12.3 million construction loan; the store will receive tax abatements worth $11 million over 11 years; and it is on land owned by the CRDA and assessed at $11 million.
That's a lot of public subsidy. And we have been critical in the past of some of the CRDA's spending priorities. But this is how "game-changers" get built these days, and this store is exactly the kind of deal that the CRDA should be doing in Atlantic City.