One of Us: Bart Blatstein, Developer

The 60-year-old developer behind the Playground, Atlantic City’s new $50 million entertainment project, tells us why that’s not crazy — and about the time he hung out with the Kennedys in Northeast Philly.

Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration by Andy Friedman

My name is … Bart Blatstein. But that’s not my legal name. Bart is short for Barton, but I haven’t used Barton since first grade, for obvious reasons.

I am a … real estate developer with few hobbies. My golf game is so bad that my hobby is real estate development. I’m the worst golfer at my golf club. They all laugh at me.

I bought my first property … on May 15, 1978 — a very small three-story rowhouse shell in Queen Village. It was the result of me not getting into medical school. I had to pursue something.

I live in … Montgomery County, but we’re moving back to Philly next year. We’re empty nesters, and it’s time to transition.

My childhood home … was in Northeast Philly. First Oxford Circle and then the Far Northeast. I graduated from Washington High School at Bustleton and Veree.

Atlantic City is … happy memories of me growing up, and I am excited to be part of its rebirth by repositioning the 500,000-square-foot Pier at Caesars into an entertainment destination.

When I want a celebratory meal … I let my wife and daughter pick the place, because they’re the foodies. But there’s nothing like a great pizza: Lorenzo’s on South Street for the sloppy stuff, and Rustica in Northern Liberties for thin-crust.

These days I drive … a big Jaguar. I don’t even know what model. But I also drive a 10-year-old pickup. Every 10 years I buy a pickup truck.

The last concert I went to was … Coachella. The best acts were Steely Dan and Jack White. I can hang, baby, though you could say that I’m on the, um, older end of the people there.

One movie I can watch again and again is … Weekend at Bernie’s, because it’s so ridiculous. I try not to go too deep. And Animal House. Oh, and Back to School.

My secret talent is … that I have a great memory. Well, except for names.

People who dis Atlantic City … don’t understand the reason why it failed and its incredible potential for the future. It failed because there was a poor zoning master plan 37 years ago, and it failed because there was never innovation. Innovate or die.

My wife is always telling me … a lot of things, but mostly to be more patient.

If I were mayor of Philadelphia … I’d probably be divorced. But really, I would focus on a problem that has existed since I was young: the school system. It’s the number one reason that young families move out of the city. Our schools should be tech-driven. Kids should be taught how to code. Our workforce needs to be more technology-forward.

To stay in shape … I work out with weights. The knees aren’t as good as they used to be. I play some doubles tennis, but there’s not too much basketball these days.

People who blame me for gentrification … don’t understand that neighborhoods transition, and I am simply part of that transition.

The most famous person I’ve ever met was … John Kennedy. And Robert Kennedy. It was at a rally in Northeast Philly. My father was always very politically active. And I met Bill Gates at Coachella. But I’ve met lots of famous people.

I find my inspiration … in my travels. I travel a lot, and I see things and get excited, whether it’s Brazil or Vegas or Austin or Ibiza.

My bedtime is … 12 or one in the morning, and I sleep about six hours.

One game you can’t beat me at is … Monopoly.

Originally published in the August 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.