NBA superstar-turned-TV pitchman Shaquille O'Neal is making another big endorsement. This time, he's backing Atlantic City.
Shaq has joined a development team that has announced plans to transform long-barren land in the city's South Inlet into a project mixing residential, retail and entertainment attractions. His Shaq Cityplex-branded movie theater will be the centerpiece of the $75 million development.
Of course, the city has had its share of redevelopment plans - announced with fanfare - that never materialized. But the fact that O'Neal's group sees the resort as a good investment is a positive sign.
O'Neal would inject some much-needed star power into the city at a time when it is struggling to overcome a six-year economic slump. Mayor Lorenzo Langford says he looks forward to the 7-foot, 1-inch O'Neal putting his footprint on the city - and with Shaq's size-23 shoe, that could be a big footprint.
What's most encouraging is that O'Neal and his partner, New Jersey-based Boraie Development LLC, appear willing to privately finance the project, instead of coming to Atlantic City with a hand outstretched for public funding, as so many other commercial ventures have done in the past.
"From what we know, they are using their own financial wherewithal," said Keith Mills, the city planning director. That doesn't rule out some public financing deal in the future, but for now, the project is supposed to be privately funded.
A big financial commitment by an NBA legend and his partner should be a sign to other would-be developers that now is the time to explore investment opportunities in the resort.
City officials and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority shouldn't squander an opportunity to work cooperatively on this project. The development site is within the CRDA-controlled Tourism District, but is owned by the Atlantic City Housing Authority. City Council has taken the first step by approving O'Neal and Boraie as the developers.
Construction is expected to begin later this year. In addition to a movie theater, the complex is to include housing, retail shops, commercial development, office space, parking and a supermarket. The first phase is a high-rise residential building, intended to create some of the foot traffic to support development of the other elements of the project.
There's good reason to be cautious here. The proposed development would be located in part of "Pauline's Prairie," a nickname that symbolizes how desolate the land has become. Pauline Hill was the head of the Atlantic City Housing Authority when the tract was cleared in the 1960s to make room for urban renewal. Over the years, other projects promised for the site, now known as the Uptown Urban Renewal Tract, have fallen through.
Let's hope O'Neal can slam-dunk Pauline's Prairie into Atlantic City history.