The first aviation facility in the world to be called an “airport” helped develop Atlantic City, and now the resort town is turning to Bader Field to help relieve some of its crushing debt.
Bader Field has been closed for nearly a decade as the city’s fortunes crashed. Now, the cash-starved resort is looking to the former airport to help save it by putting it back on the market — at what could be a 90-percent-off sale.
Atlantic City put the 143-acre site up for sale in 2008, hoping to attract as many as three new casinos on a tract of land considered one of the most desirable coastal locations on the East Coast. That was right after the city’s casino market began to contract due to competition from casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania.
But few foresaw how bad things would get — and how quickly. Atlantic City’s casino revenue fell from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.56 billion last year.
When Bader Field was first put up for sale, the city expected it to sell for at least $1 billion. One company offered $800 million in 2008, but the city held out for $1.5 billion.
“We had $800 million in hand,” City Council President Marty Small said. “That was a missed opportunity.”
Mayor Don Guardian said Atlantic City will set a minimum bid of $150 million — 90 percent less than the city thought it could get in 2008. His one caveat is that any money brought in by the sale be applied directly to Atlantic City’s $437 million debt — a liability that is a prime reason the state is trying to take over the resort’s finances.
Bader Field, which closed in September 2006 after 96 years of aviation use, gave the world the term “airport” when a local reporter used the word in a 1919 article.
In 1910, it was the scene of the first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air, 17 years before Charles Lindbergh would succeed. Walter Wellmann lifted off in the dirigible “America,” only to ditch off Cape Hatteras, N.C., when a storm hit shortly afterward.
Entertainers, business travelers and even U.S. presidents regularly flew in and out of Bader Field, but it remained the domain of small planes and private pilots; bigger jets landed at Atlantic City Airport 9 miles away.
Bader Field is where the Civil Air Patrol was founded shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. But a series of fatal plane crashes soured city officials on its use. The control tower was shut down in 1989 and it stopped selling fuel in 1993. Just before the shutdown, fewer than 30 planes a day used it.