Contract awarded to study Bader Field alternatives

ATLANTIC CITY - The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority awarded a $350,000 contract Tuesday for the study of development alternatives for Bader Field, the 150-acre site whose fate is considered vital to the city's future.

The designation of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc. as consultant for the project comes after months of conversations between the CRDA and other state and city officials on the best use for the municipal airport that closed last year. The CRDA last October approved a half-million dollars for the redevelopment project, and has since created a task force with representatives from the city and the state's Office of Economic Growth to lead it.

"Central to the economic potential of Atlantic City, Bader Field is significant not only for its proximity to the city's wealth of casino developments but also for its potential to provide a new economic anchor in the area," the firm wrote in its proposal, one of four submitted.

CRDA Executive Director Tom Carver called it a "highest and best use study" that would help determine what would bring the city the highest returns. The hiring of an outside consultant is meant to make the process objective in the face of pressure from business and government interests.

Some in the casino industry oppose casinos at Bader Field - Pinnacle Entertainment has even threatened to abandon its plans to build a megaresort here if such development takes place - but Carver has previously said the site is too valuable to rule that out. There have also been fears that the city would rush to offer a developer money without first thoroughly analyzing the matter. Atlantic City is looking to development at Bader Field as an answer to property tax relief that will be needed when the city next year has its first revaluation in 30 years.

"We had some discussions regarding possible help with tax revaluation - that's going to knock us out - and the CRDA is going to be a partner with Bader Field," said acting Atlantic City Mayor William Marsh. "Hopefully we'll get some financial help."

The consultant's three-part financial feasibility analysis would include evaluation of land value, potential development partner candidates, the zoning and approval process, and traffic and environmental issues.

Jones Lang Lasalle identified potential challenges of a large-scale development as political pressure, off-site infrastructure requirements, current zoning that restricts casino development, environmental issues from underground fuel tanks, and likely opposition from the surrounding community and casino industry.

The CRDA and the city are moving forward with their vision for Bader Field and more of the state agency's Atlantic City projects against a backdrop of municipal chaos. Bob Levy's abrupt resignation as mayor last week has thrust hastily sworn-in Marsh onto the CRDA Board. And Kim Baldwin, who as city solicitor had acted as the city's liaison on the CRDA's Bader Field task force, has been replaced in that committee by Planning Director William Crane, according to Carver. Marsh this week fired Baldwin, who did not return a message on her cell phone seeking comment.

"It should be a smooth transition if she's not here because it should be getting someone in and getting up to speed and filling in for her spot; I don't think it'll be difficult," Marsh said.

"It's not good for anybody," Carver said of the recent upheavals. But, he added, the CRDA has had a sound relationship with Marsh during his tenure as City Council president, and "we're getting by and I think progress will continue."

The CRDA also approved the funding of $200,000 from the New Jersey Department of Transportation toward DMJM Harris, the consultant the agency has hired to undertake a regional transportation master plan. DMJM will use that money to study future access options for Bader Field.

In other news at Tuesday's meeting, the CRDA:

--Granted preliminary approval for a $4.8 million short-term loan to the South Jersey Transportation Authority for a $12.5 million expansion project at the Atlantic City International Airport. The project entails certain apron expansion and improvements as part of the airport's ongoing capital development program, according to airport Director Thomas Rafter. The SJTA will repay the CRDA from passenger facility charges for which it expects to receive Federal Aviation Administration approval. This project fits into a larger one planned to expand the airport's number of gates, Rafter said.

--Granted approval and authorization of $133,000 for the initial phase of an Atlantic City traffic operations center that would help alleviate congestion. The CRDA awarded a bid to CMX Consulting. The total cost of the project will be $60 million, from yet-unidentified sources.

--Approved the reservation of $130,000 in supplemental funds allowing DMJM Harris to conduct traffic counts at more intersections as part of the transportation study.

--Approved a project that would fund improvements for the Dwayne Harris Memorial Ball Field near the intersections of Maryland and Huron avenues and Brigantine Boulevard, in addition to funds being contributed by the city. The CRDA's portion - which goes toward reconditioning the field, resurfacing a basketball court and building a field house with concessions and bathrooms, among other things - will come from funds to be donated by Revel Entertainment.

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