Can Bart Blatstein save Atlantic City?

As casinos are shutting their doors, the Philadelphia developer is moving in — and Blatstein’s ace in the hole could be Iron Chef and restauranteur Jose Garces.

The two unveiled their new partnership Monday at The Playground in Atlantic City, a massive, multi-floor, 500,000 sq. ft. entertainment complex that’ll feature 14 live music venues, dozens of bars, five different menus, a sports bar, a nightclub and a bowling alley. Set inside a failed mall, it’ll become the largest non-gambling destination in Atlantic City.

Blatstein, you may remember, is the CEO of Tower Developments and has been seen as a respected developer in Philly for more than 30 years — he’s the guy who developed The Piazza and helped transform Northern Liberties into the hip, upscale neighborhood that it is today. He’s also one of the developers who recently lost a bid for a casino license in Philadelphia.

Now, in addition to partnering with the Garces Group for a massive project that he hopes will reinvigorate Atlantic City, he’s also bringing in Bryan Dilworth and his noted Philly booking company Bonfire Entertainment. That company — which books talent at Philly’s The Electric Factory, Underground Arts and MilkBoy — will help to book music and entertainment acts to fill the venues at The Playground.

Blatstein has said that he plans on The Playground, into which he’s dumping about $50 million, becoming “the greatest success” of his professional development career.

“We’re going to rock this place,” he said Monday. “We’re a stone’s throw away from 30 million people (Philly, New York, D.C.). They just need a reason to be here.”

Tower Developments purchased the venue, formerly The Pier Shops at Caesars, in November, started construction in April and plans to be finished with the “T Street” music venues by June 25, with a large amount of the renovations still taking place in the next three weeks. They say they’re aiming to draw thousands of young people to the “uniquely Atlantic City” space.

The Playground, which will hold a large grand opening party on Fourth of July weekend, is split into a number of different areas. While the front will remain retail, the developers kicked out and relocated retailers in the back of the building on the pier side to make way for what’s called “T Street,” the indoor avenue that will feature music venues of different genres.

Blatstein and Dilworth said they designed the “street” of music venues based on Beale Street in Memphis or 6th Street in Austin. In the back of the pier over the ocean is the complex’s biggest venue that’ll feature a large stage, a massive screen and the capacity for 2,000 people.

And in the middle of the complex is the watering hole Blatstein and his people are calling “The Monkey Bar,” a play off of The Playground theme and the place where he says all the young people will come to (his word) “pre-game.”

(Ed note: Yes, we understand that “pre-gaming” is, by definition, drinking at home before spending money on drinks out.)

We took a tour of The Playground this week, and below is what it looks like now (and what parts of it are supposed to look like by June 25):

Here’s Blatstein standing in what will soon be “The Monkey Bar,” which he says will be decidedly less orange when all is said and done.

Here’s what the Monkey Bar will look like when it’s finished. Not pictured: The walls on the sides will open up, allowing for beach views. Note the #cool #hip iPad ordering system:

Currently gutted retail stores, this part of the walkway in The Playground will — in three weeks — be transformed into music venues in different genres from country to rock and roll to hip hop.

Hundreds of workers are filling T Street and the rest of The Playground complex and are working in three different shifts so that people are working at all hours of the day to make the place a reality by Blatstein’s set deadline.

Below is a rendering of what will be called “T Street,” the place that Blatstein claims will be the east coast’s answer to Nashville:

Below is Blatstein standing in the largest space at The Playground, the area that will become the “39N Concert Hall” AKA nightclub, complete with swanky marble tabletops and several bars.

Here’s a rendering of what that space will look like:

This is a view from the bottom of the concert area looking up to the second and third floors:

The second floor will be home to a bowling alley called “Bart Bowl,” and the third floor will be a sports bar that Blatstein says will be the best in North America. Those second and third floors are slated for completion by the end of the year.

Bart Bowl rendering
Varsity Club Sports Bar rendering

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Thetelegraphfield from 2014 to 2017.