Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein says he and casino architect Paul Steelman have agreed to buy the four-story, 300,000 sq. ft., half-empty Caesars Pier shopping center in Atlantic City for a small fraction of its construction cost. (See also in the A.C. Press and Phila Business Journal).

A person familiar with the deal said Blatstein and Steelman agreed to pay $2.8 million, less than 2 percent of the $200 million plus that developer Taubman Centers Inc., of suburban Detroit, and other investors plowed into the center in the mid-2000s, according to company filings. The partners hope to close the deal later this year.

"I love Atlantic City. I grew up going to the Shore. And this is the best time to buy there," with casinos shutting down and property values cratering, said Blatstein on Sunday. "For those who think A.C. is done for, they are out of their minds. This is a great opportunity to come back into Atlantic City."

Taubman imagined that 85 retailers selling high-end Baccarat crystal, Gucci and Hugo Boss accessories, Louis Vitton luggage, Tiffany jewelry, as well as middle-class clothing brands like Banana Republic and Guess, and branches of Philadelphia's Buddakan and Continental retstaurants, among others, would appeal to gamblers looking to spend casino winnings, and other visitors.

My colleague Amy Rosenberg says the Apple store at Caesars Pier has been consistently busy: if Atlantic City ever shuts down it will be the last joint to turn off the lights, she predicts. But the 2008 recession and the rapid increase in competition from casinos in Pennsylvania and other states crippled Atlantic City's casino and hotel traffic, and the hope-for shoppers for many of the stores failed to materialize.

In 2009, Taubman wrote off $108 million it and others had invested in Caesars, and said it would stop subsidizing the mall's operations; stores began to close. In 2011 a group of lenders foreclosed on the center, cancelling another $135 million in debt and interest that Taubman still owed, and put the glass-walled center up for sale.

Blatstein said he and Steelman, a Longport native and Atlantic City High School graduate whose clients include gambling mogul Steve Wynn and Brookfield Partners, the outfit that bought Atlantic City's new, failed Revel casino for a fraction of its cost, weren't planning gambling or residential uses, but were open to other commercial tenants.

Steelman is also the designer for Blatstein's proposed Provence casino at the Inquirer's former plant on North Broad St. in Center City. "Paul's from down the Shore. He's got such a creative brilliant mind, he's got projects in Vietnam and Macau and Moscow, I love working with him, he sees it all," Blatstein gushed.