$100M water park at Showboat hotel OK’d, tax break pending

The key to making the project work — 20 years of tax breaks the Showboat's owner is seeking — has not yet been decided.

Former Showboat casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

This June 8, 2016 photo shows the exterior of the former Showboat casino in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

A development agency in Atlantic City approved construction Tuesday of a $100 million water park at the former Showboat casino in a move designed to make the gambling resort more appealing to families and off-season tourists.

But the key to making the project work — 20 years of tax breaks the Showboat’s owner is seeking — has not yet been decided. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is expected to consider that request at a meeting within the next few weeks.

But it did give final land use approval to the project, which is to be built on a vacant lot next to the Showboat, which currently operates as a non-gambling hotel.

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, who owns the Showboat, envisions the water park as a key to attracting families and non-gamblers, and to draw more tourists in months other than the busy summer season.

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An aquarium and a giant Ferris wheel already draw some families, but Atlantic City remains far more geared to adult gamblers.

“It’s abundantly clear that Atlantic City is lacking in family destinations,” Blatstein told The Associated Press after the vote. “There’s not enough for them to do here. This will create Atlantic City’s first year-round family resort.”

Before that can happen, though, the agency must decide on a significant tax incentive Blatstein is seeking for the project.

He has asked for designation of the project as an entertainment retail district, which would entitle it to an annual rebate of up to $2.5 million in sales tax generated by it for 20 years. There also would be tax breaks on construction materials used for the project.

The proposal is the latest in a string of water park projects envisioned for Atlantic City.

In April 2017, a local investment group led by investor Ronald Young signed a deal to buy the former Atlantic Club casino, announcing plans for a family-friendly hotel, anchored by an indoor water park. But when financing dried up, so did the water park plan, and the Atlantic Club went back on the market.

Young said he had previously been rebuffed in his plan for a water park at the former Bader Field airport site.

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In 2012, a group headed by developer Tom Sherwood proposed a sailboat-shaped hotel and water park project in the Marina District.

Blatstein has also proposed a return of gambling to the Showboat, but has been mum on that idea since proposing the water park earlier this year.

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