Philadelphia real estate developer Bart Blatstein isn't exactly certain why everybody thought that he would be running The Playground at Caesars on the Boardwalk of Atlantic City.
Sure, Blatstein and Steelman Partners built The Playground up and out from its former failed prospect (the Pier Shops). He turned its once-desolate aisles and empty storefronts into a multi-venue music walk, the sleek T Street, which opened in June 2015 with Jose Garces Events providing food and beverage for each of its venues and Bonfire Entertainment providing acts for its main room, 39N.
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"Usually, it would take 8-to-12 months to get leases together for retail tenants and build out spaces, to say nothing of the two years to do a restaurant," says Blatstein. "Me, I did everything in two months because I didn't feel like waiting."
That was then. Now, it's time at the Playground for Blatstein to do what he does best – be a landlord.
"I never intended to stay there and run things. It's just like what I did with the Piazza in Northern Liberties. I developed it, opened a few spaces, then, brought other businesses to do it themselves. Same thing with The Playground. I'm a landlord – a glorified landlord, maybe – but I wanted to go in there and get things started so people could get an idea of how it could work."
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Bonfire left before summer's end. Garces – a friend of Blatstein's who Bart asked to help – left when their contract expired on Mischief Night.
"The term of Garces Events’ agreement to manage food and beverage operations at The Playground ended on October 30, but we thank Pier Revival and Bart for the opportunity to be a part of the start of a great project," wrote Garces Group's VP of Operations, Events & Catering Aaron Kleinle.
"That was always the goal at the Playground" says Blatstein. "It was always about transitioning. We wanted good tenants and now, we have them. That's always better than one operator - trust me - because you'll have different personalities."
For Playground spaces such as Monkey Bar, Purdy's, 1921, and Tag, an operator is in place, but Bartstein can't announce them yet. For 39N, Riviera's beer garden and Bo's dueling piano bar, Brian Nagele and Brian Pugh – operators of King's Oak and North Shore Beach Club near the Piazza – will take over with a planned New Year's Eve party at The Playground in the works (neither responded to requests for comment). "Everything is going great there," says Blatstein.
The same thing can be said of his other Atlantic City purchase, the Showboat Casino Hotel that Stockton University sold to Tower Investments Inc. (headed by CEO Blatstein) for $23 million in a deal that was supposed to go through on November 9, but whose delays until January means tax advantages for both parties.
"I'm weighing the options for the Showboat now," says Blatstein alluding to both its casino and non-casino possibilities, as well as all of its' dwelling aspects.
For now, the still struggling Jersey Shore destination city, which saw a bill that would have brought $33 million in revenue vetoed Monday by Gov. Chris Christie, needs every investment dollar it can get.
"Atlantic City is a developers dream for non-gaming attractions," says Jeff Guaracino, Executive Director for the non-profit destination marketing Atlantic City Alliance. "Bart's a passionate AC booster; a developer with vision who knows how to find a good deal."