- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

ATLANTIC CITY

Move over, kitsch; step aside, tackiness. Make room for the newest feature of this resort city: upscale shops and eateries.

A Tiffany & Co. store and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant are arriving at high-end developments that are redefining a city once known for sprawling discount buffets and yesteryear’s lounge acts.

The first retailers at the Pier at Caesars opened last week. By the end of the year, it is expected to have 90 stores and 10 restaurants.

Although some of the stores are standard mall fare — think Victoria’s Secret, Gymboree and the Apple Store — some are super high-end. A whole level is dedicated to couture, where the floors are blue terrazzo marble and where you can buy Burberry clothes, Tiffany jewelry and Tourneau watches.

The gleaming, 900-foot pier is in stark contrast to the nearby Boardwalk, where shoppers can visit stores that advertise “Everything’s 99 cents” and where sea gulls circle, waiting for people munching slices of pizza to drop a crust or pepperoni.

The developer of the Pier, Sheldon Gordon, is the man behind the Forum Shops, the Las Vegas shopping and entertainment complex that is seen as a key part of the transformation of that city from a gambling mecca to a place where people could have fun and spend plenty of money even if they didn’t want to gamble.

He said last week that his $200 million Atlantic City project, which is connected by a skyway over the Boardwalk to Caesars Atlantic City, could have the same effect on the New Jersey Shore. “That is, to change the whole attitude,” he said.

Atlantic City today has more going for it than Las Vegas did when the Forum opened there 14 years ago, he said.

The resort has been becoming more upscale for three years, since the Borgata opened with not just a casino and hotel rooms, but also a spa and restaurants run by hotshot out-of-town chefs such as Philadelphia’s Susanna Foo.

While other casinos have themes such as the Wild West and ancient Rome, the Borgata emanates luxury and hipness. Scantily clad waitresses patrol the casino floor, the rooms have showers built for two and tour buses are not courted for their normally low-rent business.

Since the Borgata opened, a building boom has emerged, with several of the city’s 12 casinos receiving upgrades and adding restaurants run by celebrity chefs.

The Borgata is opening a $200 million expansion, featuring restaurants by Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay and Michael Mina, along with a second night club, a fancy food court and a new 85-table poker room.

Borgata spokesman Michael Facenda said the casino realized soon after it opened that there was more demand for upscale living in Atlantic City than it was providing, so the expansion started quickly.

On the Boardwalk recently, Marcia Wilhelm, 62, and Joseph Gotto, 81, who regularly make gambling day trips from Elsmere, Del., said they did not have much personal use for shops peddling couture or high-end restaurants.

“It’s better than having it fall down the way it was,” Mr. Wilhelm said, pointing to the new shops, which replaced a dilapidated building. “It will be a nice thing to walk through.”

Mr. Gotto said that even if he is not spending money in the new building, it could force casinos to spruce up more to match the newly upscale environs, which he said makes his experience better.

If Las Vegas is the role model for the new Atlantic City, where there is more to do than gamble, another touch at the Pier fits right in: the city’s first wedding chapel.

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