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Old Posted Nov 13, 2007, 7:45 PM
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A.C. revels in plans for casino
New site's preliminary approval gets company closer to winning deal

November 08, 2007

It seems casino companies are always touting multibillion-dollar plans for Atlantic City.

But Revel Entertainment is the one putting the shovel in the ground. And it's doing so without the usual fanfare.

Yesterday, the company, headed by former Penn National chief operating officer Kevin DeSanctis and backed by Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley, gave the public its first peak at what Atlantic City's 12th and newest resort will look like as it went before the city's planning board for preliminary site approval of its project.

The drawings show two thin silver towers that will be the tallest in A.C., with an elevated podium in between, landscaped with greenery and lots of water. Atlantic City is, after all, a beach town, and Revel hopes to capitalize on that with cabanas, an indoor and outdoor pool and nightclubs overlooking and facing the beach. It also will have a private beach heated with fire pits during the winter.

City and state officials hope Revel's project will be the start of a $10 billion building boom that will include a $2 billion casino from Pinnacle Entertainment on the former Sands casino site and a $5 billion resort from MGM Mirage next to Borgata. A fourth, from Wally Barr, former Park Place Entertainment CEO, and Curtis Bashaw, former executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, also is in the works next to Hilton.

"This is very significant for the city," A.C.'s Planning Director William Crane said in an interview after the meeting. "It's the next step up from Borgata. And it should be something that sets the bar a little higher in helping the city develop as a destination resort."

Borgata was the last new Atlantic City casino to open -- in July 2003.

The preliminary site plan approval allows Revel to start work on piles and foundations and was the first in a series it needs before it starts major construction. The company also expects to receive final approval of its redevelopment agreement with the city today.

But crews, which have already done prep work on the site, will start major construction without the usual dog-and-pony groundbreaking ceremony.

"We're very excited that we can start our foundations and footings, but at the same time, we have a long road ahead of us," DeSanctis said. "And there will be an appropriate milestone in which to really celebrate."

To be sure, some details are still being hammered out. Like the price tag. In recent months, DeSanctis said the casino would be in the $2 billion range. Yesterday, he said it was going to cost less than MGM Mirage's proposal but more than Pinnacle's.

Revel also needs project financing. Currently, the company is operating from interim financing provided by Morgan Stanley, although the privately held company has not divulged details. DeSanctis said he expects to go out for full project financing during the first quarter of 2008. He did not seem worried the turmoil of the credit markets would hurt his chances. And he said the resort's opening has been pushed up, to late 2010, from 2011.

The 20-acre site -- one of the largest contiguous plots in Atlantic City -- is next to Showboat along the Boardwalk. Crane, the planning director, said he was pleased to see Revel incorporated the beach into its Boardwalk entrance -- the opposite of what Boardwalk casinos did when they opened more than 20 years ago and designed the casinos to keep people inside gambling. Revel's resort will have 1,000 feet of beach frontage.

The casino -- a total of 150,000 square feet, smaller only than Bally's -- will have 40-foot ceilings with a mezzanine level. And while two towers with roughly 1,900 rooms each are planned, DeSanctis said the second may not be built initially but could come later.

As Atlantic City is trying to differentiate itself from slot parlors in neighboring states, Revel's plans also include a lot of non-gambling items, like shops, a 5,500-seat theater and a spa. DeSanctis said it was designed to be more of a resort with a casino than a traditional casino with a few restaurants and bars.

He said while conceptualizing the project, he thought of it as a big party room. Hence the company name, Revel.

"What are we trying to accomplish?" he asked. "The whole concept of having a party. And that's what revel means. (We wanted) to created a really great experience to make people say, 'Oh man, this is going to be fun.'"

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