March 23, 2023
A plan to transform Bader Field in Atlantic City into a Formula One racetrack with luxury condominiums and retail space gained additional momentum Thursday.
Mayor Marty Small Sr. signed a memorandum of understanding to green light the $2.7 billion development project, one of several plans floated for the former municipal airport, which closed in 2006. The 143-acre site is located less than a mile from the city's intracoastal waterway and is the largest tract of undeveloped land in Atlantic City.
The project, proposed in February 2022 by DEEM Enterprises, calls for a 2.4-mile, Formula One-specified raceway that weaves its way through a residential and commercial complex with as many as 4,000 housing units. Luxury condominiums would be catered to auto enthusiasts with high-performance cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Small said the site also will include a $15 million recreation center.
DEEM Enterprises is expected to pay $115 million for the land and will move ahead under the terms of a City Council resolution that calls for due diligence studies over the next six months. The developer will pay all costs associated with land assessment and analysis of the project before the city signs a formal redevelopment agreement.
Key decisions in Atlantic City still remain under state control as part of the government takeover initiated by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2016 and extended through 2025 by Gov. Phil Murphy. The city's dire fiscal situation and struggling economy, punctuated by a wave of casino closures in 2014, prompted the state's intervention. The redevelopment of Bader Field, one of the city's most valuable assets, has loomed as a major decision for Atlantic City's future.
On Thursday, Small said the state had approved his memorandum for DEEM Enterprises' plan. As part of the City Council resolution, any development contract would include a reverter clause that returns the land to the city in the event the project falls through, the Press of Atlantic City reported.
Michael Binder, a principal of DEEM Enterprises, last year told the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce that the project's construction would take 6-9 years and would entail dredging the back bays of Bader Field. Binder said DEEM Enterprises would use sustainable building materials, including solar panels on the roofs of condos and other structures planned on the site.
Formula One, the world's premiere auto racing series, has become increasingly popular in the United States alongside other auto racing sports like NASCAR and IndyCar. The sport's growth in the U.S. has been fueled by the Netflix documentary series "Drive to Survive," which chronicles the drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship. Although Formula One Grands Prix are infrequent in the U.S., three events are planned this year in Miami, Austin and Las Vegas.
The planned raceway at Bader Field, designed by a leading motorsport firm in Spain, would not be open to the general public.
"You can't come off the street and just drive your own car around, but rather you would need to be a member or guest of a member and be certified by professional instructors," Binder told the Chamber of Commerce. "Safety is paramount!"
DEEM Enterprises has said noise should not be a concern for surrounding communities because many of the cars on the raceway would be electric vehicles.
"There won't be discernible noise from the motor course," Binder said. "There's more noise on Albany Avenue right now."
The memorandum of understanding comes after Philadelphia developers Bart Blatstein and Post Brothers proposed a $3 billion plan for Bader Field that would have included 10,000 housing units, retail space, offices and a series of trails, parks and other amenities open to the public. The proposal was touted as a Venice-like waterfront community with a series of canals to be built along the inland waterway.
Bader Field remained in operation for 96 years and is considered the inspiration for the first use of the term "airport," which was written by a reporter who had covered the field in 1919.
In October 1910, Bader Field was the site of first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Aeronaut Walter Wellman was among a six-person crew that took off in the dirigible "America," which was ditched over North Carolina due to a storm less than three days later. That attempt came 17 years before Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.
The airport generally served smaller aircraft, with larger jets traveling through Atlantic City International Airport.
Atlantic City previously tried to sell Bader Field at a minimum of $1 billion in 2008. There had been momentum to build additional casinos at the site, but the casino closures in 2014 dimmed that outlook and the city wanted more of a financial return for the land than had been offered. The site was again listed for sale in 2016.
Small said the DEEM Enterprises development would help cut local taxes for Atlantic City residents by bringing in more owners of high-priced real estate to absorb some of the tax burden.
The developer has not yet provided information on the mix of housing that would be a part of the Bader Field project, but said it is committed to equity.
"This immense development will foster and promote the core values of equity and empowerment and will serve the citizens of Atlantic City," the project's website says.