By Joshua Burd
As a crowd packed the famed Atlantic City boardwalk on Thursday, an investment group hailed the opening of the new Ocean Resort Casino at the former Revel property.
The group, led by the Colorado developer Bruce Deifik and his family, took the wraps off the resort less than six months after announcing its purchase of the failed luxury property. Both he and public officials touted the milestone as a new day for the city and a second chance for a building that once promised to revitalize the northern end of its oceanfront neighborhoods.
“I’m not sure the boardwalk has ever been this busy on this side of town, but that’s about to change,” said Deifik, chairman of AC Ocean Walk. “That is about to change in a big way.”
In an outdoor ceremony just steps from the Atlantic Ocean, Deifik embraced the scale and spectacle of the original 6.4 million-square-foot property, which opened in 2012, but said its new owners have corrected the failures that caused it to close after just two years.
“There are very few properties on the planet — forget about Atlantic City, forget about Las Vegas — that really compete or compare with what the Revel was when they originally developed the property,” he said. “And we looked at that and then we paid very close attention to what the people said that came to Revel, what they did like and what they didn’t like. And we made the changes necessary.”
That meant creating a tiered loyalty program, allowing smoking and embracing those who come to Atlantic City to gamble. But AC Ocean Walk has enhanced the property with additions such as a new Topgolf full-swing golf simulator, a partnership with Hyatt and discussions with ESPN and HBO to bring boxing matches to the facility.
Ocean Resort has also brought back many of the casino’s popular clubs and restaurants. And it has bolstered that lineup with Wahlburgers, the growing burger chain run by the Wahlberg family, prompting Mark Wahlberg to attend the ceremony alongside other dignitaries.
The movie star noted how much development has taken place in just a few years since his last business venture in Atlantic City, which involved being the executive producer of the HBO show “Boardwalk Empire.”
“The city continues to grow and flourish,” Wahlberg said. “And I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Deifik unveiled the Ocean Resort on the same day that the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City opened its doors just a few minutes away. He and others embraced the dual openings, with Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam calling it a “monumental moment” for the embattled resort town.
“Because we have partners that are committed to the community, not just the four walls of their establishment, it gives me honor and great pleasure to welcome Ocean Resort and the Deifik family to become part of Atlantic City’s family,” Gilliam said. “And we’re creating history as we speak. As you look out and you see the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous boardwalk, Atlantic City is truly back in the game.”
Deifik said the event was the culmination of a 13-month journey that took him and his family away from their Denver-area home and real estate business. That journey became public in January when AC Ocean Walk announced that it would purchase Revel for $200 million from developer Glenn Straub, who had acquired the shuttered property out of its second bankruptcy.
Today, Ocean Resort employs nearly 3,300 full-time employees and has provided a second chance for many of those who lost their jobs in 2014, when Revel and three of the city’s other casinos closed amid growing competition from neighboring states. And the opening comes as Atlantic City enjoys new nongaming investment, led by the $220 million Gateway project that will deliver a new campus for Stockton University and a headquarters for South Jersey Gas.
State officials are bullish on such projects as well as the prospects of re-growing the casino market. David Rebuck, the director of the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, recalled his optimism earlier this year when the Deifik family approached him about taking over the former Revel, adding that “we were committed to getting this done for this summer.”
“His entire family is committed to seeing this property successful,” Rebuck said. “You will be successful because of your heart, your emotion, your commitment. And we are so pleased to work with you as a partner.”