By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — The airplane made Atlantic City’s Bader Field famous, but it could be the automobile that brings it back to life.
A $2.7 billion recreational, residential and retail project for car enthusiasts is proposed for the historic but vacant former site of America’s first aviation facility to be called an “airport.”
DEEM Enterprises, a company based in both Los Angeles and Atlantic City, wants to build the project near the city’s waterfront and casino-laden skyline.
It would be a 2.44 mile (4 kilometer) automobile course on which car enthusiasts could drive their high-end automobiles; around 2,000 homes in different price ranges; a shopping promenade and other automotive-themed attractions.
“There is literally nothing like it anywhere in the world,” said Michael Binder, one of the company’s senior members. “The latest trend in motorsport is the country club environment, where people bring their exotic cars, they stay there and become part of a motorsports community.”
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small endorsed the project as “the most credible proposal this city has seen for Bader Field. I like it.”
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has the final say on the sale of the site and what will be built there under a state takeover law enacted in 2016. No contract has yet been finalized. signed for the project.
Binder said his company has sufficient funding and has already spent $15 million planning it.
Bader Field, which closed in September 2006 after 96 years of aviation use, gave the world the term “airport” when a local reporter used the word in a 1919 article.
In 1910, it was the scene of the first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air, 17 years before Charles Lindbergh succeeded. Walter Wellmann took off in the “America” airship, only to abandon it at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, when a storm hit shortly after.
Entertainers bound for the Boardwalk ballrooms, business travelers, and even U.S. presidents regularly came and went from Bader Field, but it remained the domain of small planes and private pilots; larger jets landed at Atlantic City International Airport about 15 miles away.
Bader Field is where the Civil Air Patrol was founded shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. But a series of fatal plane crashes embittered city officials about its use.
The city has tried several times to sell the 143-acre site, setting a minimum price of $1 billion in 2008 but expecting at least $1.5 billion for one of the largest plots of developable land. near the ocean on the east coast of the United States.
The idea was that at least three new casinos could be built there. Pennsylvania-based casino company Penn National offered $800 million, but the city held firm and no deal was ever struck.
The DEEM project would create more than 1,500 permanent jobs and include affordable housing for the workforce.
It would include private amenities like an Apex Club and the racetrack, but also publicly accessible areas including a boardwalk, nature trail, retail outlets and other attractions along the intracoastal waterways that surround much of of the site.
Car owners wouldn’t need to be part of the club to use the track, but would have to go through a rigorous safety course first, said Binder, who lives in Philadelphia and designed and built the screen and board. Liberty Bell scoreboard at Philadelphia Phillies Stadium. , Citizens Bank Park.
There would also be two large 5- and 10-story car show towers, and some of the duplex units even incorporate high-end cars into the design, including a glass-enclosed garage in which a resident’s car is visible from the entire first floor.
Storm resilience and energy efficiency would be an integral part of the project. Binder said the site would be raised to make it less susceptible to sea level rise and coastal storms using spoil from a US Army Corps of Engineers waterway dredging project for the elevate between 7 and 35 feet (2 to 10 meters).
It would have its own electric micro-grid, possibly powered by hydrogen, and use geothermal wells for heating and cooling.
“It’s not a racetrack; we don’t run races here,” said Atlantic City attorney Dan Gallagher, another of the development company’s partners. “The track represents about 10% of what we offer here. It’s about sustainability, jobs, green energy. It ticks all the boxes. It seems like everyone had an idea for this property, but nothing like it.
It would include a hotel; a 4,000-seat amphitheater; an automobile-themed museum; an esports video game facility and a sportsbook aligned with one of the city’s existing casino licenses.
Binder estimated the project would take 10 years to complete and said he expects to be eligible for various clean energy incentives from federal and state governments.
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