It was awful weather for the first full day of summer Thursday: rainy, cold and windy.
But it was perfect for what Bart Blatstein is selling.
The Philadelphia developer is about to open Island Waterpark, a $100 million indoor aquatic recreation facility designed to appeal to family tourism and give visitors something else to do besides gambling as Atlantic City seeks to become less dependent on the spin of the slot machine reels, the roll of the dice or the flip of the cards.
It is an effort that Las Vegas has used with great success in recent decades as that city emphasized resort amenities, entertainment and most recently, professional sports, in addition to gambling.
The Island Waterpark, which will formally open June 30, is another big bet on non-gambling entertainment in the seaside resort. In recent years, Atlantic City, its nine casinos and some non-gambling businesses have unveiled attractions including a giant Ferris wheel, high-end restaurants and shopping and entertainment venues.
“It’s hard to believe we’re really here,” said Blatstein. “I’m so excited for this project and for the people of Atlantic City. You can bring the family and have something for the kids to do, too.”
“Statistics show people will travel up to seven hours to go to a water park,” he said. “And it’s not just us here. We have nine casinos, 300 great restaurants and 20,000 hotel rooms. We all benefit from this.”
Blatstein, president of Tower Investments, whose Keystone State projects include the mixed-use Northern Liberties development in Philadelphia, has been particularly active on the non-gambling front in Atlantic City.
He bought the Showboat, a former casino hotel, from Stockton University in 2016 and operated it as a non-gambling hotel. Since then he has added an indoor arcade and go-kart track there.
Another attempt at non-gambling attractions did not fare so well. Blatstein bought the former Pier Shops from Caesars Entertainment for $2.7 million and reopened it in 2015 as The Playground shopping and entertainment complex. But that project fizzled despite what Blatstein said was $52 million worth of investments, and he sold it back to Caesars five years later for an undisclosed price.
“We make all our money in Philadelphia, and he spends it all in Atlantic City,” said Brandon Dixon, Tower Investments’ president, repeating a joke he says Blatstein hates.
The project is the first in a long string of Atlantic City water park proposals to actually, well, hold water.
In April 2017, a local investment group led by investor Ronald Young signed a deal to buy the former Atlantic Club casino, announcing plans for a family-friendly hotel, anchored by an indoor water park. But when financing dried up, so did the water park plan.
Young said he had previously been rebuffed in his plan for a water park at the former Bader Field airport site.
In 2012, a group headed by developer Tom Sherwood proposed a sailboat-shaped hotel and water park project in the Marina District.
The Island Waterpark, built on a vacant lot between the Showboat and the Ocean Casino Resort, includes 11 slides, a 1,000-square-foot surf simulator, and a lazy river encircling much of the park. It also has a Kids’ Cove, a 30-foot-tall tree house that can be booked for private parties, cabanas and an adults-only nightlife section.
Tickets range from $69 to $119 per person depending on the time of year, with discounts available for military, first responders and seniors.
Its garage is aggressively patrolled by a private parking enforcement company that requires parking to be paid before a driver leaves his or her vehicle to enter the complex. Several attendees at a preview event Thursday night returned to find violation notices on their vehicles threatening to turn the matter over to a collection agency if fines were not paid within a week.