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Developer Bart Blatstein goes all-in with promises for failed Atlantic City complex

A sports bar, bowling alley and 14 live-music venues are on tap for The Playground, Bart Blatstein’s re-do of the Pier Shops at Caesars.

Artist’s rendering of the “T Street” portion of the Playground, Blatstein’s vision for failed Pier Shops.
Artist’s rendering of the “T Street” portion of the Playground, Blatstein’s vision for failed Pier Shops.Read more

PREDICTING THE project will be "the greatest success of my career," Philly-based uber-developer Bart Blatstein didn't just unveil his plans for the long-beleaguered Pier Shops at Caesars shopping mall yesterday, he put his professional reputation on the line.

"I've never failed in my career, I've never not picked an area that was going to turn around," Blatstein told an audience filled with political and business leaders at a lavish event held at the four-story complex that juts out over the Atlantic Ocean from the Boardwalk opposite Caesars Atlantic City casino-hotel. "This place can't fail. It won't fail. This is going to be the greatest success of my career."

The Playground is the name Blatstein and his partner in the project, casino architect Paul Steelman, have given their $50 million version of the space that began life more than 100 years ago as Capt. John Young's Million Dollar Pier. Most recently it was site of the ill-fated Pier Shops at Caesars.

The 500,000-square-foot Playground, when finished by the end of the year, will boast three levels of music-intensive entertainment featuring 14 live-music venues including the 2,000-seat 39 N (named for the pier's longitudinal location), a bowling alley ("Bart's Bowl") and the sprawling Varsity Sports Bar.

Blatstein said the project will add 500 new jobs to the existing 400 employees.

The first phase of the renovation is targeted for a July 4 debut. It will include the Boardwalk-level "T Street," a promenade of musical bars that Blatstein likened to Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., and 6th Street in Austin, Texas. "T Street" as well as 39 N and an as-yet-unnamed outdoor concert area will be on the pier's east side.

According to Blatstein, whose Piazza at Schmidts development ignited the transformation of Northern Liberties from a decaying urban desert to Philly's hottest neighborhood, music is his blueprint's key element.

"It's all about music," he said. "It's what ties everybody together. It ties everything together."

It is expected that Philadelphia-based Electric Factory Concerts will be responsible for booking the acts there.

For some in the audience, yesterday's announcement seemed like a case of deja vu. It was about a decade ago when a small army of casino-industry and municipal muckety-mucks stood in roughly the same place and promised a great future for what was then dubbed the Pier Shops at Caesars, which was to be filled with high-end eateries (including two from local restaurant titan Stephen Starr that remain open) and retailers like Hugo Boss and Tiffany (both of which have closed).

So how will Blatstein succeed where others have failed?

One way, he said, is that his plans call for providing far more views of the beach, ocean and Boardwalk than currently exist. He added that more restaurants and "high-end shops" are planned in addition to the 14 music venues.

Blatstein suggested his target demographic will be single people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

"That's the market that spends money," he said.

The plans also call for two members-only, over-21 swimming pools, one in a beach club adjacent to the pier and the other cantilevered over the end of the pier. The pools, Blatstein told the Daily News, are a tribute to his late father, Harry, who operated Boulevard Pools at Tyson Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard in the Northeast in the 1950s and '60s.

"I wish he could be here to see this," Blatstein said.