ATLANTIC CITY — Cathy Albany has spent more than 30 years in the city, 28 of them in a rented apartment off Atlantic Avenue in the city’s Lower Chelsea section.
From her upstairs deck, she has a view of the newest addition to her neighborhood, the Gateway project that will build a Stockton University campus and a South Jersey Gas office building about a block away. And she likes what she sees, both now and into the future, for a devel-opment that’s set to open in 2018.
“I’m happy to see some momentum over here, and I think it’s going to make the area flip,” says Albany, a Philadelphia native who came to Atlantic City for a casino job and never left. “In other words, I think the rent is going to go up.”
Jerry Barker is operating on that same premise, but from a different vantage point. He’s branch manager of Weichert Realtors’ office in Atlantic City’s South Inlet, and earlier this year, he had a client con-sidering a studio-sized condo in the Seashore Club.
That’s an ex-motel just off the Boardwalk, right next to Stockton’s future dorms. And as Barker was giving his wavering buyer some of the selling points of the deal, he started selling himself on the area, too. So he made an offer on another Seashore Club unit, listed at $50,000, although Barker offered only about half that much.
After some negotiating, he got close to the price he wanted. Then he says he did an analysis of sales within a mile of the Gateway and found “it’s been a straight upward trend” since about the time work actually started on the project, in September.
“It’s only been a couple of months, but in my professional opinion, that trend will continue in the area for at least three to five years, maybe even 10 years,” he said. “I think that’s going to be worth $100,000, give or take, in a short time.”
But for now, he has a beachfront condo to use in the summer, and a place he hopes to rent in the off-season — which just happens to be when most colleges are busy.
Gloria Hamlett already has close ties to Stockton. She’s a graduate, and so is her daughter as of this year, and now Gloria Hamlett works part-time at the university’s Carnegie Center, also in Atlantic City. But she lives about two blocks from the new Gateway campus, on Ventnor Avenue, and she’s encouraged by signs she sees in the neighborhood.
For one thing, she’s noticed work going on in the old Masonic Temple, right next door to the house she rents and which her family hopes to buy in a foreclosure sale. She also runs a little day-care center there, but says, “I have lost a ton of business, because most of my families who worked for the casinos have lost their jobs.”
So she’s counting on Stockton helping to replace some of that business with the children of its faculty and staff and students when the Atlantic City campus opens.
But Gateway’s possibilities apparently aren’t what’s driving that work on the Masonic Temple, a local monument of a building that has stayed empty since the Atlantic City Police Department moved its headquarters out in 1998. And even then, the sad state of the interior led to its nickname: Police officer liked to call it the “Temple of Doom.”
John Peruto, of the Philadelphia Suburban Development Corp., confirmed that crews have worked in the building, but “that’s just to make it more clean and safe,” he said.
“The area is certainly getting better with what Stockton is doing there. That’s definitely good for the neighborhood,” he said. “(The temple) has good bones; it just needs to be redone inside. … But right now, what we’re doing just happens to coincide with what’s going on across the street.”
Jo Ann Daly, an agent with RE/MAX Platinum Properties in Margate, lives in Chelsea and has some listings in the neighborhood. She senses two distinct moods there.
“The optimists are very hopeful. The pessimists are saying, ‘We’ll wait and see what happens,’” she said. “On the one hand, you have Stockton and South Jersey Gas … and on the other hand, you have Atlantic City being taken over by the state.”
Because of that, “Investors are on a very cautious streak right now with what (Gov. Chris) Christie has done,” she said.
Of the two, Daly considers herself “sort of an optimist.” But that’s only “if the city really does a nice cleanup job. The city has to open its doors and clean up the streets and invite people safely into our neighborhoods. The city has to invest — because they know the state is not going to do it.”
Irene Ruzzo is another veteran real estate agent with strong Chelsea ties. She raised her family a few blocks away from the Gateway project but lives now in Linwood. She had a listing for a commercial space on Atlantic Avenue near the future campus, an old dentist’s office that sat vacant for about five years before it sold recently, she said.
“I think yes, (Gateway) did help sell the building. For a long time, there wasn’t a lot of activity in that area,” she said.
Now, with a college and a corporation coming, “I’m absolutely thrilled,” Ruzzo added. “I’ve watched that whole area go from being top of the line to really the bottom. But I think this is going to be a catalyst to help revive the entire area.”