Atlantic City to consider casino zoning for nearly 100 acres next to Borgata

Atlantic City – City officials shaping the resort’s new master plan are considering a recommendation to designate a large section of land for casino development, potentially bolstering a Marina District already bulging with plans for more gaming activity.

The triangular tract lies between Huron Avenue, Brigantine Boulevard and the White Horse Pike and is adjacent to the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Nearly 100 acres of mostly undeveloped land and some wetlands, the section is mostly privately owned, although the city does own a small section.

The resort’s Planning Board began reviewing rezoning possibilities this week after it was suggested by Thomas Eddington, a planning director with Karrabashian/Eddington Planning Group, which worked with the city to draft the master plan.

„It makes sense to look at,“ Eddington said in a phone interview.

„It would need significant analysis, but it might be a good opportunity for the future of the city.“

The future already looks bright for the Marina District, considering MGM Grand’s proposal to build the largest casino in town on a 72-acre site also next door to the Borgata. The development is to feature three hotel towers totaling 3,000 rooms and is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2012. MGM is a 50-50 owner of Borgata with Boyd Gaming Corp.

The recent rezoning recommendation is one of several being considered by planning officials amending new draft master plan and continues the city’s search for buildable land for casino development as options decrease.

Last month, Penn National Gaming Inc. asked the Planning Board to include the rezoning of a former oil depot along Route 30 in the master plan with hopes of transforming the site into a gaming destination.

„There’s so little land to work with,“ said Jacqueline Carole, head of the Planning Board. „Any new casino development that comes to Atlantic City I’m excited about.“

Penn National, a casino and racetrack operator based in Pennsylvania, has been eager to establish itself in Atlantic City. It has already make an offer on the city’s sprawling Bader Field property and is inquiring about property on The Boardwalk. The company has a deal in place with the owner of the land off Route 30 that relies on the rezoning of the tract.

Casino development across from the Borgata could also have a lasting effect on other Marina District casinos, either drawing more customers to the section of town and its surrounding casinos, or stealing revenue from the competition. Casino officials were reluctant to comment on either possibility.

Alyce Parker, spokeswoman for Harrah’s Atlantic City, said she was unaware of the city’s consideration and said she thought the land had already been zoned for casino development.

Although she didn’t comment on the effect that potential development could have on Harrah’s business, the casino seemed to discourage Penn’s plans of developing along Route 30 last month, saying they should focus on areas already designated for casino development.

„We would be happy to offer comment once we learn more about the project that’s being developed,“ Borgata spokeswoman Noel Stevenson said of the rezoning plan along Huron Avenue. „Without knowing the identity of the project or scope, it’s difficult to comment how it would affect Borgata.“

Officials with Trump Marina Hotel Casino also would not comment.

Potential opposition from nearby casinos is only one obstacle the rezoning would face.

City Planning Director William Crane said traffic and access-road issues could be a problem.

„I guess there would have to be some turn-around issues that would have to be addressed,“ Carole said, „but we’ve done all that before.“

The tract also neighbors Back Maryland, a section of the city known for its frequent violence and drug activity, conditions that could keep tourists away.

The Planning Board is also reviewing whether it is legal to rezone city areas, section-by-section.

„Every area has challenges, but we’ve worked through them,“ Carole said. „I’m definitely not opposed to it.“

The Planning Board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the issue April 16.