Going up? Casino towers will soon take A.C. to new, dizzying heights
By DONALD WITTKOWSKI Staff Writer, (609) 272-7258
Published: Monday, March 27, 2006
Updated: Monday, March 27, 2006
ATLANTIC CITY — Maybe it's just marketing hyperbole to impress the tourists, but it seems Atlantic City is starting to acquire a reputation as “Manhattan South.”
New York super-developer Donald Trump already has his name emblazoned on three casinos here, and Fifth Avenue retailers such as Gucci and Tiffany will open new stores this summer in an upscale Boardwalk shopping and dining complex called The Pier at Caesars.
Soon, another New York-type icon, the skyscraper, will soar high above the beaches. While modest by Manhattan standards, three new casino towers will flirt with or break the 500-foot height level in a race for bragging rights as Atlantic City's tallest building.
“For the casino industry, there is a great attraction to combine the efficiency and the iconography of these tall buildings to show that their tower is bigger than the person's next door,” said David Scott, chairman of the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
Harrah's Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa either plan or have started construction on hotel towers that will rise to dizzying heights. Harrah's is already laying claim to the title of the city's tallest building as it prepares to break ground Thursday on a 557-foot structure containing 964 rooms.
“The sky is the limit!” Harrah's boasts in its invitation to the groundbreaking ceremony. “Let us take your imagination skyward as Harrah's breaks ground on what will be the tallest hotel casino in all of Atlantic City.”
City Council gave Harrah's a boost this month by raising the height limit for buildings in the surrounding Marina District from 485 feet to 560 feet. The higher ceiling clears the way for Harrah's to erect its 47-story tower, the centerpiece of a $550 million expansion that will include a lavish spa and 172,000 square feet of retail and entertainment attractions. The retail and entertainment project is scheduled for completion in 2007, followed by the tower in 2008.
Michael Walsh, Harrah's vice president of development, was more reserved than the tone of the groundbreaking invitation. He said there was no deliberate attempt by Harrah's to outshine its competitors by building the tallest tower.
“I don't think having the highest tower is what will give us prestige,” Walsh said. “I think being part of the world's largest gaming company is prestige enough.”
Without City Council's decision to raise the height limit an extra 75 feet, Harrah's would have been forced to settle for a tie with the Taj Mahal's proposed 485-foot tower. Trump, who has two Manhattan skyscrapers that are among the 50 tallest buildings in the United States, maintained it was not his plan to top the height of his casino rivals.
“That was never a factor in our thinking,” Trump said. “But I always like height.”
Construction of the 45-story Taj Mahal tower is scheduled to start in June, with completion by summer 2008. The $250 million project is a crucial part of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc.'s financial turnaround following its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May.
The Taj Mahal's existing 42-story hotel tower, at 415 feet high, was the city's tallest building until Borgata's gargantuan 2,000-room hotel structure grabbed the title in 2003 with a height of 479 feet.
There was speculation that Borgata would go even higher with its new 800-room tower, but the project will be slightly shorter than the casino's existing 43-story hotel. Rick Schoenfeld, Borgata's project manager, said the $325 million tower will top out at 39 stories and 457 feet when it opens in late 2007.
The gold-hued casino skyscraper will be accented by a distinctive feature that will run up the side of the building and carry over the top to create space for the tower's name, the Water Club, or possibly Borgata's logo, Schoenfeld explained.
“We refer to it as a sail,” he said. “I wouldn't characterize that as a technical term. It's more of a design element.”
Scott, the chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, said the casino towers will pose a number of construction challenges, including making them robust enough to withstand hurricane-force winds whipping the coastline.
In addition to the hotel towers, Atlantic City's building boom includes trendy retail shops, spas and New York-chic restaurants run by celebrity chefs such as Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay.
“The Realtors on the island are saying now that Atlantic City's nickname is Manhattan South because of all of the high-end retail, the New York restaurants and the luxe condos that are going to be put in the Inlet area,” said Thomas Mills, a real estate broker in Ventnor.
Although the new casino towers will certainly raise the profile of Atlantic City's skyline, Scott noted that they will not even crack the top 50 list of the country's tallest buildings. New Jersey's tallest building is the 42-story Goldman Sachs tower, rising 781 feet above Jersey City. Trump is planning to top Goldman Sachs by building two residential highrises in Jersey City, at 55 stories and 50 stories, respectively.
Trump's Jersey City skyscrapers will peer across the Hudson River at Manhattan. While the new Trump, Harrah's and Borgata towers in Atlantic City may be reminiscent of Manhattan, Scott said they reminded him more of the soaring casinos of Las Vegas.
“I think having three 500-foot buildings being built in town at any one time shows a very vibrant construction industry,” he said. “As these towers get built, they lend character to the cities themselves. As you look at the early days of Las Vegas, it was really, in my view, the towers that created the city as well as the flashing lights.”