Pulse: The Shore: And Now … Atlantic City

The best bet in A.C. right now isn’t at the poker table.

For years, the one tepid spot in the blistering Jersey Shore real estate market was Atlantic City. While simple cottages in Stone Harbor, Avalon, Ocean City and Margate were fetching high six figures, you could still buy in Atlantic City for a down-and-dirty five figures (although what you got was most likely down-and-dirty).

If you bought, however, you have our congratulations, because you couldn’t have hit a bigger jackpot if you’d spent a week stuffing nickels into slots at the Trop. Thanks to the startlingly fast turnaround in Atlantic City’s image — in the space of 24 months, it’s gone from bleak to chic in terms of cultural cachet — it suddenly finds itself with one of the hottest real estate markets on the East Coast. The neighborhood around Snug Harbor, for instance, long the site of boat repair operations and modest houses, now looks to be a budding Gold Coast that will soon be filled with million-­dollar properties. “Little fishing shacks that were worth 60 grand two years ago are now going for 400 grand just for the lot,” says real estate broker Frank Barbera. “For as square as A.C. was, now it’s hip.”

Even more telling are the condo developers rushing, like Monopoly players on speed, to put up high-end units — this in a city where a new non-casino high-rise hasn’t been built in ages. At last count, at least half a dozen projects were either under way or close to it. (See the chart below for a sample.) Who are the buyers in A.C.? Some mirror those driving the bonanza along the rest of the Shore — baby boomers with bucks to spend. “Baby boomers are at the point where a second home is an attractive investment,” says developer Tom Scannapieco, whose company is currently transforming the Regency, an Atlantic City high-rise built in 1989 as part of a push for affordable housing, into the “ultra-luxe” Bella. “Not only can they use it now, but they see it as someplace they could live when they retire.”

But with its electric vibe, the town is also attracting residents who are younger, hipper and wilder. “With the boating, the casinos, the restaurants — it appeals to people who want a little more decadent lifestyle,” says Barbera. In other words, Atlantic City may still be going to hell — just not in the way we figured a few years ago.  — Tom McGrath