The initial phase of a four-year, multi-million-dollar Steel Pier renovation project is slated for May 12, and lots more is in store for the famed A.C. landmark down the road.
The Catanoso brothers were already seasoned amusement-park veterans when they reopened Atlantic City’s Steel Pier with 14 rides in 1993, a scant 22 days after signing a five-year lease that extended to the year the famous Pier turned 100.
That could have served as a model for making several splinter groups meld together quickly in a complete package, but it paled in comparision to the undertaking the three brothers have tackled much more recently.
Anthony, Charles and William Catanoso ran the Steel Pier as lease operators for 20 years under Trump Entertainment Resorts. In August 2011, they purchased the Pier for $4.25 million as principals in Steel Pier Associates LLC, which included fellow Cape May County resident Ed Olwell (their longtime business partner) and renowned Las Vegas architect Paul Steelman.
They acquired a $6 million loan from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and put up plenty of personal capital to start what is to be a multi-year renovation project, intending to make the Steel Pier an eventual year-round destination. Steelman is the architect in charge of design and Thomas Bock is the principal construction coordinator.
“The first year we’re investing $22 million and from there it’s a $102 million investment extending to 2015,” says William Catanoso. “Tom Bock [of Ernest Bock & Sons construction in Philly] and his crew are really working miracles right now. With our time frame and the way our funding works, without him this project would be in trouble, so to speak. The guy’s really done a lot for us and has been hands-on since we started.”
The ownership group is well in progress of renovating the enclosed sky bridge it purchased from Trump (connecting the 1,000-foot-long Pier to the Taj Mahal) and the main entrance off the Boardwalk. Renovations will include creating a nightclub inside the sky bridge, a food-and-beverage service court on the ground level of the main entrance, a new arcade on a second level to be leased by Globe Vending of EHT, and several new games.
“In year two, the building gets expanded in three directions — back, front, and upstairs, and we’ll have eight new rides coming in and eight new food kiosks,” says Catanoso. “Off the first deck [one of many new decks, all of which will eventually be about half covered] we’ll have a stairway leading down to the beach so you’ll be able to come in right off the beach [without having to access the Pier from the Boardwalk]. We’ll also have a whole new electrical system, as in the past we had been running mainly off generators.”
Near the far end of the Steel Pier will be a beer garden and 40- by 60-foot tented area with tables and chairs, serviced by a wait staff and located near the existing helipad that offers helicopter tours of Atlantic City from the far end of the Pier.
A temporary amphitheater will be put in place for kids’ shows, concerts and other special events during the summer, and a permanent amphitheater will go under construction starting in September.
Among the new rides in the Pier’s long-term plans are a new roller coaster (larger than the current Crazy Mouse), new carousel, and a thrill ride that will complement the popular Rocket (the contraption resembling a giant slingshot), which is similar to a ride the Catanosos used to own in Wildwood.
“In Wildwood we used to own a ride called the SkyScraper that’s a propeller-type ride,” says Catanoso. “This is like that, but it’s bigger and has twice the capacity. It’s 150 feet up, which is two feet higher than the Rocket.”
At the end of summer, construction will begin on a 388-foot swing tower called the Star Flyer.
“It’s going to be the biggest in the world, and it’ll be right here,” says Catanoso. “There’s going to be nothing like it. We have to take out a 30- by 30-foot section of the pier and drive in pilings to accommodate it. It’s a three-month installation.”
The final phase will include expanding the building space from the Boardwalk, enclosing about a third of the rides, and replacing the Pier’s current 80-foot high Ferris wheel with one on the building’s roof that will be 250 feet tall. Several prominent restaurant franchises have expressed interest in setting up shop at the Pier, as has Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
“People are seeing this project and they want to be part of it,” says Catanoso, “but we don’t want to jump into any one commitment just yet. We’ll wait to see how things unfold.
“The city and state are completely on board, and the Governor’s office is making this their main family attraction for Atlantic City. They’ve been great, and they’re 100 percent behind it.”
George Jackson opened the Steel Pier in 1898, less than 50 years after Atlantic City’s incorporation. He was followed by owner Frank P. Gravatt, a showman who realized the public’s appetite for an eclectic mix of entertainment in one location at one price, 25 cents.
“We are very excited about all the new things to do and see in the Wildwoods in 2012,” says John Siciliano, executive director for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority.
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