ATLANTIC CITY — Call it Pacific Avenue.
Or dream a little and call it North Beach.
Better yet, call it NoBe, as in 600 NoBe.
That's the trendy name developer Wasseem Boraie has given to his new luxury rental apartments between Atlantic and Pacific avenues in Atlantic City, which is where he thinks Philadelphia-area folks should locate their summer or retirement homes.
"We know there are so many empty nesters from Philadelphia, Egg Harbor," said Boraie, whose family-owned development company focused on New Brunswick for decades, and, lately, on Newark and Atlantic City.
"People who have been looking at Long Branch and Asbury Park and want better value, they're going to come to Atlantic City," he said. "We're one block from the ocean. We have two world-class casinos in Hard Rock and Ocean. There's an elevated pool and cabanas, outdoor grills. There's never been anything like this in Atlantic City's history."
He said 1,500 people have signed up on his website, many from the Philly area, and he will begin tours and lease signings later in August. Building No. 1, with 85 units, will start renting by the end of August, he said. A second 85-unit building is scheduled to open in October, and a third, in January.
Timing is everything
With the project years in the making, Boraie's timing seems like a stroke of genius. From a head-scratching $85 million project taking place in a near totally abandoned part of town, an area once referred to as "Pauline's Prairie," with a newly closed $2 billion casino and Tony Boloney's, a lone hipster pizza shop, he is now about to start renting luxury units on New Jersey Avenue between Atlantic and Pacific Avenues, just a stone's throw from the newly opened Ocean Casino Resort, with the new Hard Rock Atlantic City a few blocks farther down.
The section of the Boardwalk in this northern part of town, which made national news when pieces of it broke apart during Hurricane Sandy, has been beautifully rebuilt and fortified and now extends around to the inlet and its picturesque jetties, all the way to Gardner's Basin, where the city's best breakfast (Gilchrist), food truck (Fish Heads), and bar with a sunset view (Back Bay Ale House) await.
And from being a lone adventurer in an area that seemed destined to be hung up by absent speculators, Boraie is now at the leading edge of a development wave taking place down the length of Atlantic City, in the blocks one and two off the Boardwalk, which many observers see as a more critical key to the future viability of the eclectic beach town than the number of casinos at its seaside edge.
In the middle of the 48-block-long city, on the beach block of Tennessee Avenue, a group of young entrepreneurs has opened Made, the home to an artisan chocolatier who also runs a chocolate-themed bar; Hayday, Atlantic City's first hipster coffee shop, serving LaColombe Nitro on tap; and, coming soon, perhaps any day, the long-awaited Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, complete with a bamboo-dotted garden.
A block away on New York Avenue, Pat Fasano, a developer from Asbury Park, is planning what he's calling a "shipping container"-style boutique hotel, and has plans for a music venue. Bourré, his new New Orleans-themed joint, will debut later this summer. Philadelphia developer John Longacre said he is bringing a Johnny Brenda's-type music venue to a nearby block.
Along with St. James Place, home to the enduring Irish Pub, the developers are calling the area the "Orange Loop" after the Monopoly properties.
Boraie says Fasano told him: "I sold out everything in Asbury, and I'm following you to Atlantic City."
"This is the next place," Boraie said. "For 40 years, Atlantic City land was ridiculously overpriced. Everything was priced for casinos and there became this myth that nobody wants to live in Atlantic City, which wasn't true."
Lack of true luxury units
On a recent tour, City Councilman Aaron "Sporty" Randolph marveled at the long-debated project now on the verge of completion.
"It brings something that we haven't had in 40 years: new rentals," he said. "This is what Atlantic City really needs. I went to New Brunswick and I was amazed. I knew this is going to be beautiful."
Atlantic City is about 70 percent rental housing, but Boraie said the current rental market lacked true luxury units. He thinks that financing has dried up for people wanting to buy condominiums and that the prices for these rental units will compare quite favorably to other oceanfront towns such as Asbury Park and Long Branch and to pricier opportunities in beach towns nearby such as Ventnor and Margate.
"Long Branch one bedrooms are starting at $2,300," Boraie said. "A two-bedroom in Long Branch is $3,300 a month. If you can get a two-bedroom starting at $1,800 a month with all these world class amenities, 24-hour security and concierge, you can't beat it."
Most units have ocean views; many have views of the old Revel ball, now the Ocean ball, the Absecon Lighthouse, and the Showboat hotel. Some units open to the street or courtyard like little beach bungalows, he said.
There's a first-floor lounge shown in renderings with foosball and trendy work spaces, retail space, and a state-of-the-art techo-gym. The 24-hour security includes a gate and concierge, and on-site parking. The interior courtyard will feature a pool on a raised deck with lounges and barbecue space.
One-bedrooms with 1,100 square feet of space will start at about $1,500 a month; two-bedrooms, including corner lots with 21-foot ceilings and spa-like bathrooms, will start at $1,800 a month.
In baby boomer style, Boraie said, the bedrooms are bigger than the living rooms. The finishings are all comparable to those in luxury units he has built elsewhere.
Boraie thinks the upscale amenities and activities will appeal to millennials and maybe new casino employees, but with the opening of the two new casinos, he's begun thinking more and more about second-home seekers who will use their places year round — people who would pay just as much or more for a pricey summer rental in a nearby Shore town.
A small percentage of the units will be set aside for limited income and workforce housing, giving first priority to individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in nearby Brigantine in 2012. The development has been financed with generous state economic subsidies, including a $15 million loan from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, a $35 million loan from the state mortgaging and finance department, and $11 million in Sandy community development block grants.
For years, as the city endured a string of casino closings and near bankruptcy, some public officials questioned the wisdom of the project, most notably Jim Whelan, the late state senator and former mayor of Atlantic City. But Boraie was undeterred. He changed the name from the Beach at South Inlet to 600 NoBe.
"The first thing I said when I got down here was, 'What the hell is the South Inlet?' " he said. "It makes no sense. This is the North Beach side of town."
And now, with the city looking as if it's finding its footing after years of calamity, 600 NoBe, and Atlantic City, await the skeptics. "People used to laugh," he said. " 'You're starting this construction after four casinos closed.' I'm in at the bottom; it can only go up. As Warren Buffet says, the time to come in is when the clouds are dark. By the time the birds are chirping, the market's already peaked."