No offers for Bader Field
Yesterday was the deadline for bids on the A.C. property.
ATLANTIC CITY - It gave the world the term
but the future of Bader Field is in a holding pattern right now.
Yesterday was the deadline for interested parties to bid on the 143-acre site that could hold as many as three new casinos.
It is considered one of the most attractive development sites on the entire East Coast and was projected to sell - before the recession hit - for $1 billion or more.
City Councilman Dennis Mason, who has been monitoring the bidding process since it began last October, said nobody had submitted a bid. He doesn't expect one to materialize soon.
"Nothing came in. There's nothing going on in Atlantic City other than Revel," Mason said, referring to a casino project under way at the north end of the Boardwalk.
Mayor Lorenzo Langford has said he had engaged in talks with two developers who might be interested. But a spokesman said the mayor would not discuss plans for the site until today.
Bader Field could be the key to the future of Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gambling market. The city is in the third year of a revenue decline that began when slots parlors opened in Pennsylvania and New York, siphoning off some of the resort's best customers. Pennsylvania's eighth slots parlor, in Bethlehem, opened in May and is expected to further hurt Atlantic City by attracting customers from northern New Jersey and New York.
For the first five months this year, Atlantic City's 11 casinos have taken in 15.7 percent less than the same period last year. The slump has killed plans for two mega-casinos and put a third on indefinite hold.
Only one company has publicly come forward with an offer to develop Bader Field. In January 2008, Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming offered $800 million for the land and $100 million to cash-starved Atlantic City to use as quick property tax relief in return for being able to avoid a lengthy bidding process.
The offer was rejected in favor of an open bidding process controlled by the city. Penn National has since said it is no longer interested in Atlantic City, which its chief operating officer said is in "a death spiral."
Critics say the depressed economy makes this a bad time to sell.
"It's just common sense. Look at what the real estate market is like," said Roger Gros, who edits two casino-industry magazines. "It's the last large piece of land in Atlantic City that's worth anything, and to [give] it away for what they'd get for it now is just insane."
The $1 billion pre-recession estimate of what Bader Field could be worth is surely moot today. A similar price tag was put on the Tropicana Casino & Resort when it went on the market in January 2008; it sold three weeks ago for $200 million.
Gros said approving new casinos at Bader Field would guarantee that stalled casino plans in Atlantic City remain that way. That includes an indefinitely delayed plan by Pinnacle Entertainment on the Boardwalk site of the former Sands Casino Hotel, imploded in 2007.
"This is going to kill every other project in the city," he said. "Who's going to come in and build on the Pinnacle land or in the marina district with three more new casinos coming to town? The city should publicly declare that the land is off-limits for at least five years."
Bader Field became available when the Federal Aviation Administration closed the airport on Sept. 30. Nearly a century old, it was the first facility to be called an "airport" when a local reporter used the word in a 1919 article.
Entertainers bound for Boardwalk ballrooms, business travelers, and even U.S. presidents regularly flew in and out of Bader Field. In later years, it became the domain of small planes and private pilots as bigger jets landed at Atlantic City International Airport about nine miles away.
Bader Field is where the Civil Air Patrol was founded shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. But a series of fatal plane crashes soured city officials on its use.
The control tower was shut down in 1989 and it stopped selling fuel in 1993. Just before the shutdown, fewer than 30 planes a day used it.