September 8, 2016

Escalating The Surreality Stakes

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It wasn’t the first time he’d threatened to pack his bags and abandon the Revel. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time he’d threatened to do so this month.

But Glenn Straub, the mercurial owner of the $2.4 billion defunct casino at the northeast end of the Atlantic City boardwalk, stormed out of a land-use meeting early Thursday afternoon, amid unspecific accusations of blackmail, saying he would “shut down” the mega-resort, which he bought for pennies on the dollar in 2015, “forever.”

Revel is the second-largest building in the state of New Jersey, and the largest god-damned casino hotel in Atlantic City history. It has been closed for more than two years.

“I’m withdrawing it, just like everything else,” the emotional Straub said, of his application for an amended site plan approval. “We’re withdrawing everything. You’re not going to blackmail us into it.”

The scene of this drama was a sparsely attended (by the public anyway) public meeting at the headquarters of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority on Pennsylvania Avenue, where last month a CRDA land-use panel had told Straub his application for an amended site plan (he has installed a rope-climbing course in what used to be the “porte cochere”) was incomplete and needed to be updated.  That ruling prompted similar threats to abandon the project to the seagulls.

This time, things seemed to be going swimmingly for Straub, whose lawyer, Nicholas Talvacchia (a dead ringer for Stanley Tucci), led a traffic expert through a stultifying discussion of ingress and egress to various parking lots, to the apparent satisfaction of both the internal CRDA and city engineers. Straub himself, several reporters noted, appeared to be dozing.

Yrs truly however was sitting a mere three feet from Straub, and I can has a different theory!

From my vantage, I could see the small purple vein pulsing radioactively in Straub’s temple, and it is my firm belief he was using some kind of advanced yoga technique to keep from bursting into flames or having a rage stroke in the middle of proceedings.

About forty minutes in, Straub’s lawyer declared plans were for the Revel to be a, “resort hotel, possibly a casino.” Around this time, the tone of the meeting changed perceptibly. Soon a CRDA official turned the conversation toward Straub’s landscaping plan for the site. Prompting murmurs of outright rebellion from Straub.

After a brief attempt to calm the developer–CRDA called a recess–Talvacchia, Straub’s lawyer, announced he was not prepared to discuss landscaping today. And that’s more or less when all hell broke loose.

“Shut it down,” Straub said. “That’s what we’ll do.” Before launching into an emotional speech. At one point he may have suggested he’d demolish the Revel, reminding the land-use board that’s more or less exactly what he did with six-blocks’ worth of downtown Miami, where he was engaged in a similar war of attrition.

“There’s something behind the scenes,” he said. “There’s something going on here.”

“Who’s it coming from?”


The question of sovereignty has been much on the collective brain lately, both at home and abroad, in this season of Brexits and wall-builders. Here in Atlantic City, the mayor and city council are fending off a proposed takeover from Trenton. But for those of us inclined to think synthetically, the question of a takeover maybe seemed already moot.

Straub blamed the landscaping delay (shrub-gate? flowergate?) on “government, government, government” which may sound like businessperson’s cant, but the CRDA board (in case you missed it) contains seventeen voting members–sixteen are white males and one white female. This in a city that’s 30% Latino, thirty-eight percent African-American, and 15% Asian. Not to mention 51% female. Who cares about takeovers when important decisions are already being made by a board that’s so…unrepresentative?

The fate of the Revel is an issue of enormous importance to Atlantic County, and to the city. The property was once the centerpiece of a state plan to turn around the city. Hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds were committed to help finance the project, which, Governor Christie promised, would not only create thousands of jobs but also provide much needed morale to a community in need of a silver lining. Oh and hey, it would pay some taxes too.

This publication has no love for Glenn Straub’s managerial style (see our earlier piece, “72 Hours…”). He seems to create crises the way other people create to-do lists. In fact, he seems to create crises as a way of creating a to-do list for himself.

But for a while today it seemed like the fate of his property might hinge on a group of people who are not elected, and whose names most of us don’t even know.

With friends like that, Atlantic City, who needs enemies in Trenton?






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