Atlantic City delays choice of developer for airport site

This Feb. 18, 2022 photo shows the potholed runway at the former Bader Field airport site in Atlantic City N.J. On Tuesday, Dec. 21, the City Council had been set to choose a developer for the site, but canceled the vote after a state official asked them to remove the measure from its agenda. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

This Feb. 18, 2022 photo shows the potholed runway at the former Bader Field airport site in Atlantic City N.J. On Tuesday, Dec. 21, the City Council had been set to choose a developer for the site, but canceled the vote after a state official asked them to remove the measure from its agenda. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Atlantic City had been set to choose a development proposal Wednesday centered on high-end sports cars for a historic former airport property but dropped those plans after New Jersey officials asked them not to take the vote.

The delay opens the door, or at least buys more time for, a competing proposal by a Philadelphia developer looking to create a water-intensive development inspired by the canals of Amsterdam.

Bart Blatstein, CEO of Tower Investments, wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy last month asking his administration to begin “a strong, vigorous, competetive public process” for choosing a developer for the former Bader Field airport property, which was the first aviation facility in the world to be called an “airport.”

The City Council was set to approve a memorandum of understanding at Wednesday night’s meeting with DEEM Enterprises, a company based in Los Angeles and Atlantic City.

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The company proposes a $2.7 billion recreational, residential and retail project including a 2.44-mile (4-kilometer) auto course; about 2,000 units of housing in various price ranges; a retail promenade; and other auto-themed attractions.

But Mayor Marty Small told The Associated Press a top official with the state Department of Community Affairs asked the city to remove the item from its agenda. He said Jacquelyn Suarez, director of the Division of Local Government Services, asked the city not to vote on the agreement as proposed.

The state has the final say over what, if anything, gets built at Bader Field under an oversight law giving it control over most of the city’s major decisions.

“The state asked us to hold off because there were some small changes” that needed to be made, the mayor said.

Neither Small nor Dan Gallagher, a partner in DEEM, could say what the proposed changes involve. A spokesperson for the community affairs department declined to comment Wednesday.

Small said he hopes to have the DEEM proposal back for a vote in late January.

Bart Blatstein, who owns the Showboat hotel in Atlantic City and has built projects in Philadelphia, is pushing a rival proposal for Bader Field called Casa Mar, a water-themed development that would create canals winding among include 10,000 units of multifamily housing, 400,000 square feet of retail and office space, and 20 acres (eight hectares) set aside for walking trails and public recreational space.

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