ATLANTIC CITY — Most locals remember the closing of the Atlantic Club in January 2014 as the first of four casino shutdowns in the city within eight months.
But to Bharat and Pallavi Aggarwal, the Atlantic Club’s death was worse still. It wasn’t just a once-thriving casino shutting its doors, it was their end of the city’s business Boardwalk virtually shutting down with it.
“We don’t get new customers,” says Bharat, who runs Pilani’s, a clothing store on the ground floor of the Ocean Club condo towers.
But the business has been expanding — to about 5,000 square feet in three storefronts — counting on the Atlantic City Gateway project reviving the area with a new Stockton University campus and more development along nearby Albany Avenue.
Many business people in the area are banking more on other projects than on anything significant at Atlantic Club anytime soon.
Atlantic Club owner TJM Properties, a private company, reported nothing has changed in the eight months since a deal for a water park there fell through. “The Atlantic Club is still on the market,” a spokeswoman said.
Elizabeth Terenik, Atlantic City’s planning director, said Monday officials have heard smaller business owners’ frustration with that big, empty business at their end of the Boardwalk.
“We’re trying to address vacant and abandoned properties throughout the city,” said Terenik, who has warned frequently of the problems those empty buildings create for neighbors and the city. “And obviously, when a property is that big, it has more of an effect.”
Other merchants say they are also missing a big neighbor, with 800 hotel rooms and almost 60,000 square feet of casino space, to draw traffic past their places.
“The day they closed, we closed,” says Frank Sharp, who helps run the family-owned Boardwalk Grill, with a menu ranging from hot dogs to waffle-chili fries.
The family used to be landlords on the small space, a few doors closer to the Atlantic Club. But when the casino closed, “the tenants didn’t make it. That’s why we had to step in,” Sharp says.
With the Atlantic Club locked, Tropicana Atlantic City is now the last casino open for people heading that direction on the boards, so most of the foot traffic either stops at Tropicana or turns and heads back the other way.
“After the Trop, they just keep them up at that end of town,” said Ed Bridge, of John’s Parking, behind the Boardwalk Grill.
Four months after it closed, the Atlantic Club was bought by TJM Properties, a private company owned by Terence J. McCarthy of St. Petersburg, Florida. The sale price was $13.5 million for a complex whose founder, Las Vegas gambling mogul Steve Wynn, first sold it in 1987 at $440 million.
It was known as the Golden Nugget in those golden days, and in 2005, its sale price was up to $513 million. But the casino went through a string of owners and name changes — from Bally’s Grand to The Grand to the Atlantic City Hilton to simply ACH — before it officially became the Atlantic Club in March 2012.
In January 2015, TJM announced a deal to sell its Atlantic Club to a Pennsylvania-based developer, Endeavor Property Group, for an undisclosed price. A few months later, Endeavor said it planned to open a water park in the hotel, which started some ripples of excitement in the area. But by early this year, that deal was off.
The Gaggiano family runs Celebrity Corner, a restaurant and bar on the Boardwalk level of the Ocean Club, and the Chelsea Beach Bar, on the sand near the boutique hotel called The Chelsea.
The big, empty casino complex nearby “affects us severely,” said Gabriella Gaggiano, one of the operators. “With the Atlantic Club being closed, our business is down approximately 60 percent, which is huge when you have a seasonal business.”