January 9, 2018

Glenny, We Hardly Knew Ye

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This publication has been as guilty as anyone of punching on the Glenn Straub punching bag over the years, but in our heart of hearts we were pulling for the man.

Glenn was a dreamer. He wanted to bring something new to our city by the sea, something other than another shopping mall for grind gamblers. “Non-gaming attractions” is what they’re sometimes called. Casinos are the core of the Atlantic City spectacle, but they’d be part of a more diverse set of entertainment offerings. Like Las Vegas, Atlantic City should be a gambling destination that gets most of its revenue from something else.

If you worked in a casino and still have a job, great for you. If your Uncle Louie dropped the mortgage money into the Enchanted Unicorn slots at Bally’s Wild Wild West, you might have a different perspective on the industry. If you still think casinos are going to save Atlantic City after 40 years of conspicuous non-salvation, god help you, because they’ve never come close. Have they ever saved anything?

Admittedly, Glenn’s idea of a non-gaming attraction fluctuated somewhat over the years: high-speed ferries to Manhattan, super yachts, equestrian entertainments, a ropes course on the porte cochere, a zipline through the old lobby, a water park in the west elevator bank, a snowboarding mountain in the cafeteria, the infamous Tower of Genius. My favorite was the endurance bike loop through the parking garage, but most people have long since stopped taking these plans seriously.

In an interview with the A.P., Glenn once said he was open to housing Syrian refugees at his hotel, a humane sentiment that promptly came to symbolize his unfitness for office. And maybe he was a bit eccentric, but he didn’t ask for much: no ERG money, no Grow New Jersey dollars, no no-bid contracts, no public-private partnerships, no Entertainment Retail Districts. In a society where crony capitalism is practiced with a sophistication unprecedented in the history of the species, Glenn lacked a critical skill. He was not a very good crony.

He waded in to the Stockton “Island Campus” controversy in the Spring of 2015, when the owners of the Taj Mahal (Carl Icahn) pledged to keep the Showboat from being used as anything other than a first-class casino resort. He squabbled with the influential construction magnate Joe Jingoli over the Revel power plant, then watched as Jingoli and Jack Morris were named (then un-named) redevelopers of the Southeast Inlet, much of which was owned by Glenn Straub. Today, Stockton’s getting an Atlantic City campus at a cost of more than $200 million, the most expensive student housing on the eastern seaboard, built by Mr. Jingoli, who owns the Taj Mahal with Jack Morris.

Showboat is open and operating, but whatever it is, it’s not a first-class casino resort.

Glenn promised to invest millions. He said he’d built a second Revel tower and imagined a grand “Phoenix Project” to recreate Atlantic City. In the end he couldn’t even get a landscaping plan through CRDA.

And now he’s selling the big ice wall in the South Inlet.

In a statement yesterday (the unstoppable Amy Rosenberg calls it “the Full Glenn“) Straub emphasized he was selling only 3 of the 64 different lots owned by “Straub-related entities” in Atlantic City (one’s the Revel) and attributed his failure to transform the Revel to the New Jersey “buddy system” which he ran into headlong. He’s still the largest “non-casino property owner on the Boardwalk” and has a track record as a turnaround artist.

He still has his eye on Bader Field as a venue for a water park, “televised X-Games,” motor sports, air shows “multi-purpose soccer fields” and concerts, “among other things.”

Bless you, Glenn.

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