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January 15, 2016

Philly developer completes $23M deal for shuttered AC casino

Bart Blatstein has not disclosed plans for the former Showboat property on the Boardwalk

The costly misadventure begun by a South Jersey university’s former president to buy a shuttered Atlantic City casino and make it into a satellite college campus was expected came to a merciful close on Friday.

Philadelphia-based developer Bart Blatstein bought the former Showboat Casino property at New Jersey Avenue and the Boardwalk.

He is paying $23 million for a 1.73 million-square foot property purchased by Stockton University in the final month of 2014, and subsequently a source of legal and financial headaches for the Atlantic County college.

Blatstein did not respond to a request seeking comment. He's known for his neighborhood developments in Northern Liberties, including the Piazza at Schmidt's, and in Spring Garden, where he'd pitched a casino development plan. He also purchased the once-struggling pier in front of Caesars in Atlantic City for $2.5 million and has since revamped it and turned it around.

Two Atlantic City council members and a struggling small market owner hailed the investment in a city rocked with casino closings, property foreclosures and a loss of jobs.

“It will be a shot in the arm, even though he has not said anything about his plans. Hopefully he invests in the neighborhood, as he’s done in Philadelphia," said Councilman Sporty Randolph.

“It’s good news and hopefully there will be some family fun," said Councilman Marty Smalls.

“This is what we need in Atlantic City,” said Baba Jones’ market owner, Milton Chowdhury. His store is near the Showboat property.

“I don’t have any traffic. I closed my takeout kitchen,” since Showboat and Revel casinos closed, he added.

Stockton paid $18 million for the property a few months after it was shut down Aug. 31, 2014 by Caesars Entertainment simply to shrink the Atlantic City market and bolster its other three casino properties

The university then was saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to maintain the property.

Stockton’s ill-fated plan for a campus was dead from the start, the victim of a long-ago deed restriction preventing the property from being used for anything but a casino. While that's been addressed and Stockton has turned elsewhere to create an island campus in Atlantic City, the issue clouded interest in the property.

Plenty of warning signs were present at the outset – but ignored or brushed aside -- by then-college president Herman Saatkamp and his team.

At play was the overreach of an ambitious leader known for his edifice-complex: constructing or buying additional buildings, such a science center, a campus center, a satellite campus, and even a country club with a hotel.

Ultimately, the costly Showboat plan led to Saatkamp being pushed out as president of Stockton. He took a medical leave, then resigned as the institution’s leader as the missteps became apparent.

While Saatkamp raised the profile and standing of the college during his 12-year tenure, his primary legacy – and his downfall – was his relentless drive to expand the institution’s footprint.

A scholar known for his study of George Santayana, Saatkamp apparently ignored the best-known quote from the philosopher:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”