Atlantic City’s Ducktown Arts District has a new fuchsia warehouse, courtesy of Jimmy DiNatale, its colorful owner, who is in the process of suing everyone’s favorite state agency, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, over what he says is CRDA’s failure to disclose environmental contamination on the site, where he’d planned to open a Hooters and a sports bar.
Last year, while lawyers for DiNatale and CRDA were writing pointed letters to one another, a group of intravenous drug users set up residence in the empty warehouse at 2231 Arctic Avenue, and the property began to fill up with syringes. The pathway between the warehouse and the neighboring Noyes Arts Garage—where last summer Mayor Guardian hosted a tie-your-own-bowtie event and kids played—became littered with drug paraphernalia.
Earlier this winter, Mo Colon and Gladys Coppage, two artists who work out of the Arts Garage, noticed the spike in the number of syringes and took it upon themselves to do some cleanup around the warehouse. They found surgical gloves, ER records, tampons, needles, etc. And they posted a video of the cleanup on Facebook.
Somewhere a whip cracked in response. Within days, Jimmy DiNatale dispatched a crew to the property to remove the needles, board up the windows to the warehouse and clean up the building, which at that point was still beige.
Now it’s hot pink.
Jimmy is a longtime developer in Atlantic County. His more conventional projects include the redevelopment of the old Lennox China plant in Galloway. He is now working on a $12-15 million extension of that project to add an asphalt plant that would create 60 to 80 new jobs.
He also knows how to send a signal.
Route 40 readers may remember the giant “VOTE TRUMP” billboard that appeared above the Black Horse Pike during election season “FROM THE DINATALE FAMILY.”
That was Jimmy. The sign now reads, “CONGRATULATIONS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP NOW LET’S MAKE ATLANTIC COUNTY GREAT AGAIN: FROM THE DINATALE FAMILY.” (Jimmy’s Kellyanne Conway’s uncle).
According to his lawsuit, Jimmy acquired the warehouse in May 2014, when he traded CRDA a strip club he owned on Indiana Avenue (The Rio, a gentleman’s club) that CRDA needed for its Marketplace project, a subsidized farmer’s market, currently dead-in-the-water*.
CRDA didn’t actually need the strip club. They just wanted it. Because strip clubs scare off the straights. Either way the old Rio site is currently empty, part of CRDA’s expansive vacant lot collection.
Jimmy says, at the time of the swap, CRDA failed to disclose the existence of a Phase I environmental study that suggested the land around the warehouse was probably contaminated. A Phase II study, commissioned by Jimmy, confirmed it and estimated cleanup costs at $1,454,720. Hence the lawsuit.
Jimmy initially wanted to put a restaurant at 2231 Arctic. CRDA thought the site could be great as a Sbarro, or a Chili’s.
Jimmy envisioned a Cracker Barrel, but the Cracker Barrel corporation said they needed 146 surface parking spaces, so the fallback was Hooters.
This is what happens when you get five middle-aged white guys in a room and tell them to imagine the future of Atlantic City.
The site would also have included a sports bar and a launchpad for duckboat tours. Jimmy has a fleet of 2.5-ton military trucks and amphibious tour boats on his property in Egg Harbor Township. They have been kitted out with seating and ACDuckTours logos. A Hooters girl would have sat in the back with the customers as they toured Atlantic City and the surrounding waterways in a military surplus vehicle. Old-fashioned family entertainment.
2231 Arctic is not technically in the Ductktown Arts District (it’s Central Business District) but close enough. Next door is the Barbera Seafood Market. One block north is Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern. Across Mississippi Avenue is the White House Sub Shop. Across the street from that: Formica’s Deli. Down Mississippi: Dante Hall and St. Mike’s Church. And directly across Mississippi is the iconic, blank back wall of the Bass Pro Shops, where visitors seeking anything Italian or arts-related can GTFO. A Hooters would have really tied the whole neighborhood together. Instead it is now a bright, pink middle finger from the DiNatale family to Atlantic City’s de facto urban planning agency.
Jimmy says CRDA should pay the environmental remediation costs. Not only did the agency fail to disclose the Phase I study, he says CRDA did not produce it, despite four (or five) separate open-public records requests in 2016. Jimmy says he only found out about the 1,150-page Brinkerhoff report through a third party.
He also says CRDA was “demanding” that he grant them a utilities easement across the property and that they were holding up his approvals, illegally, until he granted it.
A CRDA spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Jimmy says he painted the building hot pink to draw attention to his case, and CRDA’s outrageous behavior.
“We were all-in on that property,” he said on the phone last month. “All-in.”
“And that’s what aggravates me with this.”
Mo and Gladys, who took it upon themselves to clean up the property around the warehouse, said they’d like to see the site become a music venue that would compliment the Arts Garage and the theater at Dante Hall.
“The only thing missing is a venue for musicians to play. It’s not up to me, but it’s definitely what we would love to see,” Mo said.
Gladys said, “It’s in a great area. It’s a great space, and it’s not being utilized at all.
“People don’t like to talk about this stuff, but you come to a point when you see nothing but filth and decline in all your surroundings, and no one is doing anything about it, so at that point you have to speak about it. You can’t stay silent anymore.”
*What happened to the idea of the Public Market in Atlantic City? Well…. After dropping a cool $100 grand on a feasibility study that said Block 157 would be the perfect site – if only they could move the nudie bar – CRDA put its money where its feasibility study told it to and sunk $3.7 million into land purchases and site preparation. The Authority then put down another $1.2 million on some great-looking architectural plans. But then it considered whether the future Public Market’s next-door neighbor, Atlanticare, might want to expand onto the perfectly-feasible Block 157. Turned out, Atlanticare and Rowan were interested, CRDA spokeswoman Elaine Zamansky told us last August. “The Public Market plan is on hold until the parties involved in the potential medical program complete their feasibility assessment.”
For now, it’s another vacant lot and a couple of surface parking lots. The parking lots make some money for CRDA, which leases them. But CRDA pays $0 in property taxes in a city where almost 40 percent live in poverty, the police and fire departments are being cut back and the few remaining taxpayers can’t even vote on decisions being made in the non-CRDA controlled parts of their town (because the rest of the city was taken over by the state last year). It’s pretty depressing to contemplate the infinite number of ways in which that $5 million could have been better invested in the economic development of the city.