Christmas came a few days late for Showboat Hotel Atlantic City owner Bart Blatstein.
The Philadelphia-based developer got a big gift Tuesday in the form of a zoning designation that entitles his proposed indoor water park project to a 20-year tax break.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority granted Blatstein’s request for an entertainment-retail district designation for a 100,000-square-foot water park, a family entertainment center and the complete renovation of the Showboat’s Premier Light tower.
An AC water park project has been kicking around for years and never came to fruition. But the tax break may finally break the logjam.
Breaking down the ERD designation
The ERD designation makes the project eligible for an annual sales tax rebate of up to $2.5 million for two decades. The CRDA is also eligible for up to $2.5 million each year, but only after the developer’s full share is received.
State law allows the CRDA to approve 11 entertainment-retail districts, each of which must consist of at least 150,000-square feet of entertainment, retail, dining, non-casino hotel or residential unit space. The Showboat water park approval is the ninth such designation granted by the state agency. Others include Tanger Outlets The Walk and The Quarter inside Tropicana Atlantic City.
The law also states that the project is eligible for an annual grant based upon incremental luxury tax generated in the entertainment-retail district. The city’s luxury tax is included on (but not limited to) the sale of alcoholic beverages, hotel rooms and admission tickets.
Blatstein was recently approved to operate a beach bar in front of his hotel between New Jersey and Delaware avenues.
The aquatic attraction will be constructed on a vacant beach block lot between Showboat and Ocean Casino Resort. It has an estimated price tag of more than $90 million, according to CRDA officials.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for 2021.
Families welcome in Atlantic City
”This project is intended to diversify the economy in Atlantic City, and also enhance the options for families to come to Atlantic City to have great experiences right along the Boardwalk,” said CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty.
Blatstein — who also owns the Garden Pier across from Ocean and operated the Playground Pier until earlier this year — said the goal of the water park was to bring more families to Atlantic City by providing non-casino gaming options.
“Atlantic City’s brightest days are ahead of it,” Blatstein said Tuesday. “I sometimes read the press and scratch my head to the point that I get a bald spot. I don’t think they understand the potential that Atlantic City has.”
Gambling at the Showboat?
The Showboat closed as a casino in 2014, one of four Atlantic City gambling parlors to fold that year. Blatstein purchased the 1.4 million-square-foot Showboat in January 2016 for $23 million. In July of that year, Blatstein reopened the closed casino as a non-gaming hotel.
Since then, the former Trump Taj Mahal closed in late-2016 before reopening in 2018 as Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. The former Revel Casino Hotel also reopened in 2018 as Ocean Casino Resort.
There are now nine casinos in Atlantic City.
Blatstein has made small steps toward bringing gaming back to Showboat. The state Casino Control Commission awarded him a statement of compliance in March, allowing him to apply for a casino license.
He has also floated the idea of constructing an adjoining gaming facility next to the Showboat to circumvent a deed restriction prohibiting gaming on that specific piece of land. That scenario now seems unlikely since the vacant lot is part of the water park project.
‘Field of Dreams’ on the Atlantic City Boardwalk
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the proposed water park was, “truly a game-changer.”
“This will take us to the next level. This will give us a much-needed family entertainment attraction,” he said. He then invoked the cliche’ of “if we build it, they will come.”
Water parks have been a slippery proposition in AC
A water park in Atlantic City is hardly a novel concept.
As recently as 2017, a development group wanted to convert a portion of the former Atlantic Club Casino Hotel into an indoor water park. The project did not move forward and the property was sold less than two years later.
A few years earlier, another group proposed a Marina District water park that never happened.
“We will not disappoint,” Blatstein told the CRDA Board of Directors. “We will bring a new dimension to Atlantic City that will help others to spend money because it’s a great place.”