Making the News

Press of Atlantic City

Originally Published:Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hopes for Atlantic City rise with Revel

By Donald Wittkowski
Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY - Andrea Fox, a construction worker at the Revel casino hotel project, yanked a handle to start the elevator on its dizzying ascent high above the city's skyline.

At 10 stories up, beaches crowded with sunbathers came into full view. At 20 stories, commercial vessels passing through Absecon Inlet looked like toy boats. At 30 stories, miles and miles of ocean could be seen stretching to the horizon.

Then the elevator jerked to a halt on the hotel's 44th floor, nearly 700 feet above the ground. On the Boardwalk, the neighboring casino hotels, towering structures in their own right, seemed downright puny.

There are high hopes for the $2 billion Revel casino, the Mount Everest of the Atlantic City gaming industry. Analysts believe it is probably the last megaresort that will be built here in a long time because of the fractured economy and credit crunch. Many see it as the savior for a market in a steep decline.

"The completion of Revel is extremely important to Atlantic City. I suspect it shows that the market is not dead on arrival, as many analysts, including myself, have forecast," said Harvey Perkins, a senior vice president with the casino consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group.

The developer, Revel Entertainment Group, is facing its own challenges. So far, close to $1 billion has been spent on a project about 60 percent finished and heading for a 2011 grand opening. Revel has temporarily halted work on the interior parts of the buildings - focusing now on only the exterior construction - to stretch out its cash on hand. The company plans to venture into the shaky credit market late this year to secure the other billion dollars needed to complete the job.

"I think the reality is, in today's environment it's going to be very hard to fund a project of this size unless the economy improves and we prove to be successful," Kevin DeSanctis, Revel's chief executive officer, said of the likelihood of other new casinos in years to come.

The economic impact of Revel is already obvious. About 500 construction workers from an array of trade unions depend on the project for paychecks. Fox, who runs the hotel construction elevator and is a member of Local 825 of the Operating Engineers, noted that a good part of her family has worked at the site.

"My son, my aunt and two of my cousins have been here," said Fox, 52, of Laurel Springs, Camden County. "It's tremendous just to be part of this project and have a steady paycheck, considering what is going on with the economy and the other casinos slowing down."

Will Pauls, president of the South Jersey Building Trades Council, estimated that local trade unions would have hundreds of members out of work if not for Revel.

"You can't replace a job of that size," said Pauls, whose organization represents about 20 unions and 40,000 workers. "If that project gets the rest of its funding, and with other work coming up in the area, we should be able to get out the recession pretty decently as far as the trade unions go.

"But for the city itself, it needs to get to the next step. It's in limbo right now," he continued. "If Revel gets finished, it will bring new excitement to Atlantic City and get the city back in the game. It's very important to the city that the job gets done."

Battered by the recession and fierce competition from Pennsylvania's slot parlors, the casinos have suffered a 15.3 percent decline in gaming revenue through the first six months this year. Atlantic City is well on its way to its third straight year of falling revenue.

Atlantic City officials count on Revel to reverse the downward slide. Nicknamed "Borgata on the Boardwalk," it could possibly rejuvenate the market the same way the Las Vegas-style Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa did when it opened in 2003 in the Marina District. However, some of the weaker casinos in town may not be able to survive the onslaught from such a formidable competitor.

"In our view, when Revel is completed, it will cannibalize a significant number of the marginal operators in Atlantic City," Joel H. Simkins, a gaming analyst with Macquarie Securities, wrote in a research report. "While this collateral damage may be viewed as an unfortunate consequence, just as Borgata started to roll the ball in the right direction when it opened in mid-2003, we think Revel can help to change the perception of Atlantic City and perhaps bring in a new audience of patrons."

Revel, a play on the word meaning fun, features a design reminiscent of Miami's trendy South Beach area. The project is rising in Atlantic City's South Inlet section, next to the Showboat Casino Hotel. The centerpiece is a sleek, 1,900-room hotel tower that will top out at 47 stories and soar 710 feet high, easily making it the city's tallest building. Reflecting the ocean theme of the property, the complex will have a glass-cloaked, curvy facade that appears sculpted by waves.

"We would never build this design for Las Vegas," DeSanctis emphasized. "This is being built for the ocean. This is being built for the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. If we were building something for the desert in Las Vegas, it would be a completely different design."

Unlike some other casinos in town, Revel will actually embrace the ocean. Its design is oriented toward the beach and Boardwalk, not toward the Pacific Avenue spine of the casino district.

"It's going to be very resort-like. That's the feel," DeSanctis emphasized. "Our design is focused on the Boardwalk side. Our guests will have great views of the ocean."

Another thing that distinguishes Revel from the existing casinos is its emphasis on nongaming attractions. More than just daytripping slot machine players, Revel is aiming for well-heeled overnight guests, conventioneers, concertgoers and the spa crowd.

The two-story casino floor will be surrounded by a mouth-watering 20 restaurants. A retail corridor that wraps around the Oriental Avenue side of the complex will include 40 upscale shops. The entertainment hub is a 5,000-seat theater. A striking hotel lobby will feature live evergreen trees, an expansive garden, a spa, a waterfall and pools.

Throughout the property, there will be enough indoor and outdoor pools to keep even the sea god Neptune happy. There will also be a one-acre "Revel Beach," a sandy area reserved for hotel guests at the far corner of the property overlooking the Boardwalk at Metropolitan Avenue.

"It should be very nice sand," DeSanctis said, smiling.

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