AC's Bader Field a hot property
by Judy DeHaven
Wednesday November 07, 2007, 7:28 AM
Now everyone wants a piece of Bader Field.
The 150-acre former municipal airfield -- where the word "airport" was first coined -- has been a source of controversy among casinos ever since government officials said they would consider allowing gambling resorts there
Some big names have been drooling over the prospect of building gigantic resorts on a huge plot of land -- hard to come by in A.C. Gambling mogul Steve Wynn is interested. Penn National has been sniffing around.
But Boardwalk operators have vehemently opposed the plan. And none has been more vocal than Pinnacle Entertainment Chairman Dan Lee, who vowed to scrap his company's plans for a multi-billion dollar resort on the site of the former Sands if casinos were allowed on Bader Field.
Casinos at Bader Field would "draw people away from the Boardwalk district, so we end up with the crack addicts and the hookers," Lee said during an interview last spring, "and you end up with a competitor who doesn't have to deal with that.
What a difference a few months -- and meeting with the governor -- makes.
During a conference call with investors yesterday, Lee said he would actually consider vying for a casino at Bader in addition to building one along the Boardwalk. His remarks followed those by MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni, who last week said he would also be interested in a Bader Field casino. MGM recently announced plans for a $5 billion resort next to Borgata.
Why the change of heart?
Lee said he spoke to Gov. Jon Corzine during the Oct. 18 implosion of the Sands and the governor was "clearly interested in seeing the Boardwalk area being redeveloped and improved."
Lee said he told Corzine: "I'm worried if you don't do it right, Bader will suck the oxygen out of the Boardwalk.' And (Corzine) said, 'We don't want to do that.'
In an interview after the implosion, Corzine said he thought it would take some time before the issues with Bader Field are hammered out. The city owns the land and has considered selling it to raise money to pay off debt and offset the pain of a looming tax revaluation. And the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority recently hired a consultant to study its best use.
Even if the state and the city were to agree on what to do with Bader Field, roads would need to be built and an environmental assessment would have to be done.
That could take years.
"We're going to have to see how we go on Bader over a period of time," Corzine said after the casino implosion. "It's a complicated project."
Some industry observers have wondered if companies like Pinnacle and MGM could use Bader as an excuse to delay their previously announced projects in A.C.
But Joe Weinert, senior vice president of the consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group, said companies have come to realize Bader's 150 acres offers an enticing prospect in the country's second largest gambling city.
"Arguably that is one of the most attractive casino development sites in the world," Weinert said. "So you can either fight, or you can join. I think those who fight it essentially would be buying time. Those who join in are buying the possibility of a very handsome reward at some point."
Judy DeHaven can be reached at jdehaven.starledger.com or (973) 392-7804.