Blatstein: The Playground in Atlantic City to be 100% Leased in 2016

Bart Blatstein raced to reinvigorate the former Pier Shops at Caesars, and now the developer says it's full speed ahead into the future for the entertainment complex on the boardwalk.

A rendering of T Street via Tower Investments

A rendering of T Street via Tower Investments

It takes time to get most anything done these days. That’s especially true when you’re trying to revive a $200 million failed whale of a luxury shopping mall into an entertainment destination full of lively bars, high-end shopping, tons of food options and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Such is the case with developer Bart Blatstein at the former Pier Shops at Caesars on the boards of Atlantic City. The developer, along with Steelman Partners, is in the midst of a massive transformation project to take it from seldom-visited mall with plenty of empty storefronts to what’s now dubbed The Playground, a development that Blatstein said would help remake Atlantic City into the entertainment capital of the East Coast.

Blatstein bought the mall about a year ago, and announced his plans for The Playground in April. The first phase of the project, a multi-venue music walk and bar scene akin to Beale Street in Memphis called T Street on the building’s first floor, was ready to go for the summer season in June. The build out took about ten weeks, and Blatstein brought in Garces Events to cater the food and beverage menu and staff each venue.

In a traditional scenario, Blatstein told Property, it would take anywhere from 8 to 12 months to put together a lease for retail tenants and build out the space, and it could take up to two years to do the same for a restaurant. Blatstein labeled the turnaround for T Street “a miracle.”

“Instead of it taking two years to do, we did it in the matter of two months,” said the developer, who called the previous operations at the Pier “rudderless” when it was the mall. “When we took it over, it was 60 percent vacant. We will have 100 percent occupancy in 2016 … the turnaround is the story.”

Now, there’s been a changing of the guard, as Blatstein transitions from the role of being the guy in charge of building it out, getting it open and operating the bars and venues in order to get it off the ground and back into a more familiar position: being the landlord.

Though the contract with Garces Events recently expired on October 31st, a new wave of operators is being announced for the many venues inside The Playground.

It was announced last week that Brian Nagele and Brian Pugh have been brought on board as the operators of 39N, a music venue at the back of the pier; Riviera, a beer garden; and Bo’s, a dueling piano bar. The two businessmen run King’s Oak and the North Shore Beach Club, both are located adjacent to the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Northern Liberties.

They already have plans in the works to throw a grand 3,000-guest New Year’s Eve party at The Playground, one which might just break the Guinness World Record for champagne bottles popped simultaneously. (In case you were wondering, the current record is 2,778 bottles.)

According to Michael Klein of The Inquirer, that’s just the beginning: “Another operator, to be identified shortly, will run Monkey Bar, Purdy’s, 1921, and Tag. A third operator will run The Bluey.”

While shopping and dining stalwarts like Apple, Gucci and Stephen Starr’s offerings Buddakan and Continental will remain, future plans for The Playground include a bowling alley on the second floor, a sports bar on the third floor called Varsity Club, and a massive outdoor music venue built into the beach, the latter is is going through the approval process, according to Blatstein.

“This notion that is didn’t work is just the opposite,” said Blatstein. “It did work … From our perspective, it’s very successful and it achieved exactly what we wanted, which was to fill up the vacancies on the back half of the first floor. It’s remarkable that it’s happened in four months time.”