ATLANTIC CITY - Workers are completing a 13-story parking garage on the northern end of the Boardwalk that will house up to 7,800 cars for the $2.5 billion Revel mega-casino when it is completed - whenever that may be.
"For us, the credit markets are the key," said Kevin DeSanctis, president and chief executive officer of Revel Entertainment Group L.L.C., which is behind the casino project. "The quicker we get financed, the quicker we can get it done."
In January, DeSanctis announced that all interior work - including efforts involving the 150,000-square-foot casino, restaurants, retail shops, spas, and other attractions - would be suspended until lending markets improved. Hundreds of construction workers were laid off.
For now, he said this week, the goal is to complete and enclose the structure of the casino. Revel has secured financing through the first quarter of 2010 to do that.
"It will look done from the outside," DeSanctis said.
Once financing is secured to start the interior work, the casino will open 16 months later, he said - it all depends on when the credit markets loosen up.
"We don't expect anything to happen too quickly," DeSanctis said. "The bigger companies with very strong credit normally start the process. As the system starts to open up, it opens up credit to a broader universe."
Revel's situation is representative of the predicament casino operators find themselves in nationwide - waiting for financing so projects can be started or completed.
Scaled-back or delayed casinos dot the Las Vegas Strip, and at least three mega-casinos have been put on indefinite hold in Atlantic City.
In Pennsylvania, the Sands Bethlehem Casino, scheduled to open later this month, and the two proposed Philadelphia casinos have downsized their plans because of the credit crisis.
The $743 million Sands Bethlehem has delayed construction of a hotel, a shopping mall, and some restaurants until general economic conditions and the credit markets improve, a company spokesman said.
"Casino capital is a precious resource right now, and these companies have to watch their outlays very carefully," said industry analyst Joe Weinert, of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C. in Linwood.
Earlier this week, a half-dozen cranes surrounded the Revel site at New Jersey Avenue and the Boardwalk.
Completion of the concrete garage, which covers seven acres next to the Showboat, is a milestone for Revel. In addition to financial difficulties, the project has been beset by tragedy: A plane crash claimed the lives of four company executives in July.
Also moving along now is work on the structure for one of two hotel towers. DeSanctis said that 33 of 47 stories had been completed and that crews were completing one floor every five days. He estimated that the first tower, which will stand 710 feet tall, was six months from completion.
"Every time you finish a part, you de-risk the project," DeSanctis said. "As we reach milestones, it puts us in a better position to take advantage of credit markets when they open up. It is much easier to market this to a lender when the structure to your building is complete."
The garage provides another logistical advantage, he said - a place for about 700 employees to park and store building materials.
"It really frees up issues with the neighborhood," DeSanctis said.
Merceda Gooding, 41, who lives less than a block from the Revel site, agreed.
"They have been tearing up the community with all their cars and equipment," she said. "Having that garage is a great thing."