With casinos and convention centers becoming the catchall answer to urban-planning problems up and down the East Coast, the new Revel in Atlantic City may prove an influential model. It merges several markets under one roof in a smoke-free environment (a novelty in casino land) including hotel resort, casino, theaters, and convention space.
The $2.4 billion project designed by Arquitectonica was supported in part by $261 million in New Jersey taxpayer incentives and is a cornerstone of Governor Chris Christie’s attempt to turn Atlantic City around. But there are signs that the complex is not playing nice with its urban context. Developers of the Revel said in an interview that they weren’t even aware of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority master plan designed by Jerde Partnership and announced in March.
On a recent visit, initial views of the Revel from Pacific Avenue reveal only a massive parking garage—the podium to a future 47-story slab—offering no hint of Arquitectonica’s impressive wave-like curtain wall on the boardwalk. Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis explained bluntly, “You need to have a back of the house somewhere,” adding that scenic views of the ocean and an inlet to the north needed to be maintained. “You sort of run out of sides pretty quick,” he said.
And the priority was to give the casino floor not only plenty of natural light but also ocean views. In a shocking departure from casino protocol, players can look up from the roulette wheel and see the Atlantic Ocean. The Philly-based architect of record, BLT Architects, oversaw miles of interior space, assigning more than 65 interior design firms to provide a dizzying array of finishes, from polished chrome columns to a 100-foot gold-flecked mobile. BLT principal Michael Prifti called the sequence of glitzy rooms, “a series of wows.”
But it’s the melding of convention and performance event spaces with casino and resort amenities that might well capture the imagination of other governors and mayors seeking that longed-for casino/ convention economic lift. Think Time Warner Center with gaming and meetings instead of a mall. Granted, 160,000 square feet of flexible event space is small by convention standards, but add in a 5,500 seat theater and 6.3 million square feet overall, and there’s room to pull off a substantial get-together. Over Memorial Day weekend, Revel hosted Governor Christie, First Lady Michelle Obama (kids in tow), and Beyoncé (I-MAX cameras in tow), all in one night.
Meanwhile, the resort hotel floats above it all with its cavernous spaces subtly shifting from one mod mood to the next. Like flipping through shelter magazines, low-key luxe materials stream by visitors as they approach the check-in.
This is not the theme casino of old Atlantic City, said Floss Barber, who designed the resort’s presidential suite along the lines of an updated take on deco master Jean-Michel Frank. Barber remembers the days when everyone wanted gladiator-and-gilt Roman-inspired stage sets. She said she conducted hours of presentations with DeSanctis before he signed off on a newer look. “He was present, engaged, hip, and aware,” she said. And while several Atlantic City regulars may find the place disjointed, cold, or unfamiliar, DeSanctis seems to be taking a gamble that AC is on to a new life.