ON A FREEZING TUESDAY LAST WINTER, months before his retro-chic Chelsea hotel in Atlantic City would open — a hotel that isn’t built around a casino gaming floor, and, even more shocking, actually invites you to venture outside and onto the beach — developer Curtis Bashaw and the dozen construction managers, money guys, marketing execs, architects and designers in his weekly construction meeting are deep into cabanas. Cabanas, under which you can sip cocktails and lounge with friends, are going to be huge at the Chelsea, which is comprised of an old Howard Johnson joined with a neighboring Holiday Inn, just south of the Hilton and steps from the Boardwalk. There will be the roomy beach cabanas — the Chelsea is the only hotel in Atlantic City to operate a full-service beach club — and then there will be private tented spaces with flat-screen TVs and enormous bed-like lounges surrounding the hotel pool up on the fifth floor.
It’s all very L.A., and even though the pool is currently a gritty, frigid, gray and barren construction site, by summer it will be a Shore Club-ish mecca of coolness with massive plantings, food by Stephen Starr, a bar, music and a fire pit. So Bashaw and his group — between trying to solve less fun problems like zoning variances, window ledges that are too pigeon-friendly, and a gaping hole the size of a bus beneath one of the restaurants — are mentally already in hot and sunny summer ’08, and it’s already time to resolve the small but crucial details of things like staff uniforms, mini-bar contents, and how much the cabanas will rent for.
If anyone can finesse the details, it’s Curtis Bashaw. He’s the 47-year-old visionary who was barely 30 when he opened Cape May’s sleek Virginia Hotel — the beginning of a new, upscale vibe to the Victorian town that had once been the domain of elderly fudge shoppers in track suits. Bashaw then single-handedly made Cape May cool when, six years ago, he took the massive, pillared and empty old Congress Hall hotel and gave its 106 rooms a beachy, sunny, hip makeover that made it a destination for style-conscious New York and Philly families. In addition, Bashaw, who took a brief detour into public service as the director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority from 2004 to 2006, has some eight hotel and residential projects from the Hamptons to New York under way with his partner, Craig Wood, in their company, Cape Advisors.
“They’re $75 a day at Congress Hall,” Bashaw says of the cabanas. In his gray suit, pink tie and pristine Italian shoes, he looks, as usual, more like a movie star playing a developer than an actual real estate executive, even though he’s sitting in an ugly orange-fake-brick 1950s car dealership that Cape Advisors is using as its on-site office during construction. The table discusses: Should the cabanas be more expensive at the Chelsea? And should the pool cabanas rent for, say, $100 if the beach tents rent for $75? After a minute of debate, Bashaw — who likes to keep the meetings moving — tells his marketing people to call Harrah’s and see what they’re charging, then to check if the new Borgata pool will have cabanas and what they’ll be renting for. He politely moves on to discuss sewage ejectors. Cabanas — done.