The Rouse Co. of Columbia yesterday tentatively landed the right to redevelop a five-block strip of Atlantic City that connects New Jersey's casino district to the blighted city's planned convention center.
The plan, if fully completed, would represent up to $520 million of development that officials hope will broaden Atlantic City's appeal to nongamblers.
The announcement helps Gov. James J. Florio of New Jersey portray himself as moving aggressively to broaden Atlantic City's economic base on the eve of an election in which he holds a narrow lead. Legalized gambling in Atlantic City has been criticized for years for doing little or nothing to spur economic growth in neighborhoods not directly along the Boardwalk.
"There are those around who say, 'What's going to happen to Atlantic City?' This is our answer," Mayor James Whelan said.
The recommendation of a committee of New Jersey's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is scheduled to be ratified by the full authority on Nov. 8, said Douglas A. McGregor, Rouse's executive vice president for development and operations. After that, the authority and Rouse will negotiate a contract, he said.
The development plan will follow up on an urban planning effort launched last year by RTKL Associates Inc. of Baltimore, an architecture and planning firm that landed an earlier deal with the authority.
The RTKL plan envisions connecting the casino district along the beachside Boardwalk with a neighborhood about five blocks away where the city already has an Amtrak station and the terminus of a high-speed rail line to Philadelphia, Mr. McGregor said.
The plan will include the creation of a lagoon to allow waterfront development.
"The two ends of the barbell are the convention center and the casino district," the Rouse executive said.
The earliest planned building is the 600-room first phase of a proposed 1,000-room Doubletree Hotels Corp. hotel that Mr. McGregor said will be a noncasino hotel marketed primarily to the convention trade.
The rest of the redevelopment plan is not yet worked out.
Mr. McGregor said Rouse's deal calls for the company initially to work on planning and market research for probably six to eight months after the deal is signed.
After that, Rouse would be the "master developer" of the remainder of about five blocks in the city's 20-square-block redevelopment zone, he said.
The casino reinvestment authority and possibly the state of New Jersey are likely to be partners with Rouse in the eventual developments, he said. "It's going to require substantial economic participation by the public sector," Mr. McGregor said.
The authority will get its share of the development money from a $2-per-car casino parking tax approved by the New Jersey Legislature earlier this year, said Nancy Egan, a spokeswoman for RTKL. The authority also collects 1.25 percent of casino gross revenues for development projects statewide and contributions from other state agencies, said CRDA associate deputy director Dennis Lower.
Mr. McGregor said the authority will give casino hotels a credit against their authority assessments if they use the money to add hotel rooms that will be made available to convention visitors. Without the aid, he said, convention-goers could face a shortage of rooms in a town whose hotel occupancy rate is far higher than the national average, and which is often booked nearly solid in peak months.
Ms. Egan said Rouse was picked after a search of several months because "they're really serious players in this kind of mixed-use development" after building Harborplace in Baltimore and similar projects from Boston to Seattle.