Bader Field juts like an arrowhead out into the Great Thorofare in Atlantic City, one of its decommissioned runways aimed at Ducktown and Bally’s on the boardwalk, the other at MGM Tower past the Expressway.
It was the stage for American aviation pioneering as early as 1910. The property housed a municipal airport beginning in 1919. Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis there in 1927.
But by 1978 the commercial liners had vacated, by 2006 the airstrips were shut down, and in 2016 the 143-acre parcel was put up for sale by the city. Then-Penn National Gaming attempted to buy it in 2008. Used occasionally for fairs or concerts, it’s continued as a backdrop of dreams and eventually frustrations for developers coveting so much fallow land so close to a tourist attraction and millions of East Coast residents.
“It’s been more of a political football thrown back and forth between all the various competing political interests,” said Erick Feitshans, founder and CEO of DEEM Enterprises, the current venture attempting to get a project off the ground. “We’ve had some luck in terms of timing. It’s almost as if it’s sat for so long, everyone has become so frustrated that nothing can be done, that now that there’s potentially a good idea, we’re getting this overwhelming support from the local community.”
If Renaissance at Bader Field succeeds, it’ll have nothing other than its location to do with airplanes. The $3.2 billion, five-year project promising sustainable construction and living, and economic stimulus for the struggling city, would attract wealthy car buffs to a high-end condominium community with a racecourse on property that’s close to the beach and the East Coast’s casino gambling mecca.
And if the plan fully develops, it will brandish an iGaming or sportsbook skin in a partnership with an Atlantic City casino.
Where this opportunity showed up and was immediately of interest was that being there in Atlantic City, close to the ocean, this massive draw … but a city in need of assistance. … To be able to bring it here and then become, as we like to say, this connective tissue of providing Atlantic City with these elements that it’s missing, it could ultimately catapult it up into being easily as large and as grandiose as Vegas or any other spot in the world for motorsport enthusiasts” — Erick Feitshans
Wanted: Affluent Car Enthusiast, Gambler a Plus
He’s out there somewhere. DEEM’s research shows it’s probably a he, maybe living in an affluent Connecticut enclave. He’s a high-end motorsports enthusiast, and as such owns about five expensive cars. A condo he’d buy at Bader Field would be at least his family’s second residence. He’d tool down from Darien in his Mercedes E Class — the family’s along, of course — and the sporty rides are in the garage at Renaissance. Yacht rock is blaring, as the end of the expressway signals the beginning of a beach weekend of track time, poker chips, and saltwater taffy.
“I think what we also find is that person may have a family, and they go to the beach, they can go into the casino, they can go shopping, they can go and do some of the other activities,” Feitshans explained. “They will have the ability to do those things where this person could then go and do a few laps on the motor course, take a few laps. And that’s usually enough, but then at least your family can go and do these other things.”
Bader Field Developers Seeking New Jersey Casino Gambling Skin
As much as Feitshans and his partners want to help make Atlantic City synonymous with high-end auto tourism, they admit that gambling is a key facet of forming that “connective tissue” between Bader Field and the rest of the city’s entertainment core.
Part of the project entails erecting an esports amphitheater and acquiring an online gaming skin from one of the nine casinos that possess the right to operate and lease them.
The notion is that we will be acquiring a skin from one of the casinos, and that’s probably going to be the extent of it. Our anticipation is that we probably won’t have card tables and the one-armed bandits in there, but we’re going to be doing, for the most part, the digital side of the gaming.
“New Jersey has a very strong footing in the online gaming world. So we’re going to really take that to additional levels, not only within the automotive world with sim racing, and a lot of the other areas that involve the automotive space, but, more traditional computer gaming as well.”
Feishtans said the company’s principals are prepared for what would be a typically stringent New Jersey vetting process.
“No doubt about it,” admitted Feitshans. “We have a lot of key personnel and consultants who are in on that already, and have been discussing it for some time. I think what ultimately is going to come through, going back to this notion of providing this connective tissue for Atlantic City to thrive, is that our discussions with the casinos presently are really about who can we determine to be possibly the best partner to deal with.
“We’ve had those discussions, but we certainly acknowledge how difficult it is. We [live in] in California. Between California and New Jersey, I think they’ve regulated everything in the world, so we’re accustomed to it. We’ll figure our way through it.”
This would be a new process for most of DEEM, except the ‘D,’ Atlantic City attorney and local facilitator Dan Gallagher, who will be crucial in shepherding the project through numerous approval processes with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and Department of Environmental Protection. Feitshans and chief marketing officer Eric Harryman — the Es — work in the entertainment industry. Philadelphia mass media entrepreneur Michael Bender completes the acronym.
Stephanie Sanborn, DEEM’s chief brand officer, noted that the project doesn’t hinge on adding the gambling element.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t accomplish it, being part of New Jersey and the fabric of this entertainment and iGaming,” she said. “But we don’t rely on it to happen.”
So when will it happen? It’s going to take a while.
Sanborn said DEEM plans for residents to begin moving into a property with a finished track and retail space between 2028-’30.
In the meantime, various events including eSports competitions in conjunction with local sportsbooks are being planned on the site. That timeline also allows for plenty of time to acquire and qualify for an online gambling skin.
In New Jersey, casinos and racetracks can offer up to three skins to outside partners for mobile sports betting. Casinos have up to five skins for online gaming. Currently, only Hard Rock has allocated all of its sports betting skins as the demise of Barstool, FoxBet, PlayUp, and PointsBet created vacancies. Racetracks cannot offer iGaming skins, but Bally’s, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Ocean, and Tropicana each have one available.
Details of DEEM’s Attempted Renaissance of Bader Field
On March 24, DEEM entered into a memorandum of understanding with Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Jr., giving it six months to complete permitting to build the auto resort and retail space on Bader Field, including a 2.4-mile track. The original goal was to raise $750 million of the funding. Among the procedural requirements are soil testing and noise-abatement measures. DEEM has promised to make Renaissance a sustainable development using new technologies to make the builders stronger and carbon-neutral.
Similar motorsports resorts have opened in Japan and Florida. Renaissance would feature 423 condo units ringing the track, 372 apartments, and 34 town homes.
Said Small at the signing, “This project won’t just change the landscape of Atlantic City, but it will give our taxpayers relief like never before.”
City officials say the project will receive $115 million as part of the deal. Plans also include the construction of an NHL-regulation ice rink.
‘High-Performance Living’ For Gamblers With Cash, Hot Cars
Feitshans said DEEM researched more than 300 automobile clubs in the United States to form a vision for Renaissance.
Online casino wagering has been active in New Jersey for a decade and sports betting since 2018. So any Bader Field resident could punch up some action from the living room of their condo facing the skyline or while waiting for their McLaren to be refueled.
But Sanborn believes there will be a natural overlap in the “affinities” of the type of customer that would be attracted to and able to afford Bader Field.
“There’s a mindset in somebody who not only is a car enthusiast but also likes to, in their own right, race and have that thrill and that enthusiasm,” she said. “Now you start looking at segmentation and affinities and a mindset for our target audiences. And so you can see where that naturally lends to gambling and also entertainment, live entertainment, which now that we have a physical footprint, we can bring the live entertainment as well.”
DEEM might not have approached the Renaissance project with the idea of adding a gambling component, but Feitshans said the concept of “high-performance living” makes for a nice marketing crossover. And in working with AC “political guru” Gallagher, DEEM learned how casinos could be part of a mutually beneficial association.
“They’re very interested in it,” Feitshans said. “This is another interesting aspect of what we’re doing, is working with them to try to develop what might be an integrated marketing plan that not only benefits them, but obviously appeals to the customer base that we’re going to be drawing.”
Feithsans envisioned such a scenario: “What we were talking with together with the casinos, is, ‘Hey, I’ve got a high roller. He wants to come in and drive the newest Mercedes, or, BMW. Can you get him into a slot at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday?’
“We’re looking into accommodating that exact thing for not only our residents, but for the public as well.”
Feitshans already has his dream car picked out for that fine day he is accommodated, humming down the expressway for the official opening of Renaissance. It’ll be an Aston Martin. His dream was splendid, but not particularly unique, it seems.
“Oh, geez, you took mine,” Sanborn laughed. “I’ll race you. …. Just kidding.”
If not, they’ll have a place for that.