Glenn E. Straub, a South Florida investor, emerged from nowhere this week with his $90 million cash bid for Atlantic City's bankrupt Revel Casino Hotel.
But for the last 20 years, Straub, 67, has made it his business to buy distressed properties - including a polo club, massive yachts, and even a high-end development in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that was left for dead by Philadelphia's Lubert-Adler real estate firm.
Straub was circumspect about what he would do with the Revel property if his bid turns out to be the winner in an auction scheduled for Sept. 24, subject to court approval at a hearing Monday.
"We're going to be doing six, seven more things there. If it makes money, that's good. Pat us on the back. If it doesn't make money, then we close her down just like Miami Arena and we blow it up," Straub said.
In 2004, Straub bought the city-owned arena in Miami, opened at a cost of $52.5 million in 1988, for $28 million, but knocked it down four years later after he found it impossible to compete with newer arenas nearby.
Development plans for the empty land are in the works, he said.
West Coast Investors, one of Straub's companies, in 2009 bought the Tesoro Club, a residential country club in Port St. Lucie, and brought it out of bankruptcy for $11 million, including 353 unsold lots. The project was originally financed by Lubert-Adler.
Four years later, Straub sold a portion of the lots to D.R. Horton Inc., a national homebuilder, for $14.7 million, public records show, more than getting his money back.
D.R. Horton is reportedly having trouble selling any of the nearly 40 homes the company built there so far because potential buyers are balking at the steep membership fees for the golf club.
Straub was born in Wheeling, W.V., a hardscrabble industrial city far from the glitz of South Florida.
Straub inherited, along with his brother, a group of automobile-related businesses, but made his first fortune through a collection of asphalt, concrete, and building materials companies that are based in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
"We're a manufacturer. We've got 26 plants in the United States. We're strong with building things and doing things," he said.
Straub made his first big mark in Florida real estate when he bought the swanky Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Wellington, Fla., in 1993 for $27 million at a Resolution Trust Corp. auction.
A trail of litigation - both as plaintiff and defendant - has followed Straub for a few decades. This year, for example, according to the Palm Beach Post, Straub sued someone over allegations that Straub did not get the VIP tickets he was promised for events at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
Atlantic City attracted his attention because he saw a chance to "really kind of change around a sick city."
He added: "Anybody could see what was going on. It's reached its time when you need to step in."
Without being specific, Straub said he was working on something much bigger for Atlantic City when Revel came along.
Straub spoke cryptically of a high-speed way to get people to Atlantic City from New York, "if they want to come down. If they don't want to come down, then there's always a back-up. Everything we do always has a back-up, because you never know when things won't work."
When asked about Straub's plans, Elaine Shapiro Zamansky, spokeswoman for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, said the agency had no comment.