- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Atlantic City has a new place to play, and it doesn’t involve gambling.

The Playground opened on Friday as the city’s newest non-gambling attraction. Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein’s $52 million remake of the former Pier Shops at Caesars is a bold bet on the non-gambling future of the seaside resort, which lost four of its 12 casinos last year.

“I’m coming into an area that everybody else is running out of,” Blatstein said shortly before The Playground’s grand opening. “But that’s what I do. I fix problems; I’m the handyman. Either I’m really smart, or I’m a moron.”

His Tower Investments has done numerous retail, entertainment and mixed-use projects in Philadelphia. He paid $2.7 million for the Atlantic City complex that cost $200 million to build - before it went bankrupt.

“It was 55 percent vacant, and it was bleeding,” Blatstein said. “I’m a sucker for a turnaround story.”

Its first floor is modeled on Nashville’s Music Row, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and 6th Street in Austin, Texas. Called “T Street,” it includes five live music venues, in addition to a concert space called 39N that can accommodate 2,000 fans where decorative water fountains once were.

A bowling alley and sports bar are planned for the fall. The complex also includes retail shops and eateries, and an outdoor beer garden jutting out over the ocean will open next weekend.

It’s also home to the iconic sign that Blatstein bought from the former Riviera Hotel and Casino, which closed its doors on the Las Vegas Strip last month.

He plans an elevated pool high above the ocean for the over-21 crowd. The fourth floor will be renovated for expanded private event rental space.

He said the redevelopment will add 500 jobs to the 400 existing jobs at the pier.

The absence of affordable, easily accessible parking was one of many factors that sunk The Pier Shops. Patrons had to make their way through a parking garage, a skywalk and a smoky casino floor in order to access the facility in its previous incarnation. While it will still be accessible from Caesars casino, The Playground will offer $15 valet parking nearby and free surface parking with a shuttle to the facility where the Sands casino used to stand.

Blatstein said he will target the 20-to-40 age demographic.

“They go out a lot, they stay out late and they spend money,” he said. “Atlantic City should not be a family entertainment town. There’s plenty of those up and down the Jersey shore.”

Matt Potash, who has homes in Atlantic City and New York City, welcomed the project.

“I’ve seen this town in the great times of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and in the lousy times,” he said. “I’m happy a guy like Blatstein is here. He gets things done. He’s just what this town needs.”

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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