A lot has been happening on Tennessee Avenue in Atlantic City since a trio with a vision announced a plan this spring to create multiple hangout spots for locals and visitors on the beach block. But most of the activity has been behind closed doors. Bringing long-empty buildings back to life means spending a lot of time reconnecting utilities and getting down and dirty with mops–and recycling trips to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, apparently.
Soon, though, facade work is set to begin on the project which is scheduled to open in the fall. Four tenants have been lined up for spaces on the Inlet-side of the street between the Super 8 motel and the Chinese restaurant on the corner of Pacific. There will be a beer hall, a yoga and leadership studio, a chocolate bar and a coffee shop, according to the TennAve website.
Developer Mark Callazzo, whose company Alpha Funding Solutions refurbished the apartment complex at 1 North Boston in Atlantic City last year, teamed up with recently-returned area natives Evan Sanchez and Zenith Shah on the project. Shah and Sanchez, who formed a company called Authentic City Partners last year, will be landlords and also tenants – they are planning to open their own coffee-shop-plus-ice-cream hangout called Hayday. (They felt it was important to be involved in the project in the same way the other tenants are, Shah said.)
“We’re trying to build a sense of place,” Shah told us, taking time out from work on the site last week. The idea behind Tennessee Avenue is to create a ‘third-place’ that will encourage locals and visitors alike to spend more time in the city. The developers envision a South Street-like walkable and bikeable space that will draw in people passing through on their way to or from work, as well as those in town for conferences or to play the slots.
Atlantic City’s mega casinos and outlet stores have sometimes had an uneasy relationship with the city’s more indigenous locales (spots like Pink-favorite Tony’s Baltimore Grill and White House Sub Shop). As the casinos and outlets have come under pressure from competitors in neighboring states and elsewhere, the gap between the perceived for-the-locals and for-the-tourists shops and restaurants has narrowed.
“I think there’s a realization that there has to be more collaboration with small business and with the community,” said Shah, who said the casinos have expressed interest in supporting the Tennessee Avenue project. “If we can partner with some of these casinos then we can really start developing the city into a much more walkable, bikeable place and in the end it will be a more liveable place,” he said, adding, “People want experiences, not things, now.”
Shah also that Tennessee Avenue could help bridge a gap between the city’s brand-name eateries and its less-well-known spots for great tacos, banh mi and pho. “I think there’s been a missed opportunity from a middle-market standpoint,” he said, noting that in general the city has struggled to make more if its diversity. “I think creating spaces that have a little bit of approachability with a little bit of the old school would allow people to have that comfort level to go in,” he added.
Adding another food spot (kati rolls? Mexican?) is something the developers might consider down the line – they have more space on the street – but for now they are focused on opening four new spots for the Fall.