“BACKSTAGE WITH BRUCE KLAUBER”: March, 2015 Edition
BORED WALK BEAT
The on again/off again sale of the Atlantic City white elephant known as Revel to Florida developer Glenn Straub is on again, and this time, it may really happen. It appears Straub got everything he wanted: an $82 million dollar price tag instead of his previously offered $95.4 million, no concessions to carry the leases of previous retailer tenants (though he is negotiating with several of them), and evidently no responsibility for past due utility bills. However, if the utility company pulls the plug before the anticipated closing date of March 31, Straub can legally pull out of the sale. If utility company ACR Energy Partners, LLC does pull the plug, it would be the dumbest possible move, as Revel would be damaged beyond repair and saleable to no one, guaranteeing that ACR would never see a dime. Accepting Straub’s deal is the first thing those connected with Revel have done right. Though nothing is final until the ink is dry, Straub’s $82 million is said to be in escrow and there is a definite closing date. If things go according to plan—and there are no guarantees where Revel is concerned–Straub plans major construction of a $50 million expansion of the exterior area of the building and a $50-plus million outlay to build a more accessible hotel lobby, a large medical facility, and health spa. Straub said he is looking for state and local government assistance and has a three-year plan to fully develop the property.
Hard Rock Casinos, which just received preliminary approval to enter the Atlantic City casino market, had been looking at Revel and did talk to Straub. But Revel was likely just too big for Hard Rock. They were the only company approved to participate in a pilot program to build “boutique” casinos of as few as 200 rooms instead of the 500-room minimum requirement currently in effect .Further, Hard Rock’s Chairman James F. Allen has said that it does not appear to make financial sense to build a new casino in Atlantic City from scratch, “We love the boutique casino concept,” he said, “and if the right opportunity comes along, we can move quickly.” A good bet is that if Hard Rock comes in, it will be at the Atlantic Club.
The good news in A.C. is that for the first time in several years, January revenue was up an astounding 19 percent over last year’s figures. Sure, there’s less competition, but even when the four casinos that closed last year are included in the accounting, January revenue was still up one percent. Biggest winner was The Golden Nugget.
THE RETURN OF PETER LEMONGELLO
Also positive news on the Boardwalk is the belated return of singer Peter Lemongello. Lemongello, a longtime colleague of those behind “Backstage,” was the first performer in history to sell one million records by way of television commercials. Lemongello’s on-air spots, actually the forerunner if “infomercials,” launched a career that led to 25 “Tonight Show” appearances, sold-out Carnegie Hall and Madison Square concerts. He was also the only entertainer to be on the cover of the “Wall Street Journal.” He was an Atlantic City regular for some seasons, but since his move to Florida some years back, Boardwalk citings have been rare. Until now. Peter Lemongello will appear at Resorts International from April 1 to April 18 and again from May 18 through May 31. The occasions when a performer actually lives up to their hype—and this guy got plenty of it—are rare. But Lemongello lives up to it. He’s a strong, strong singer with impeccable pipes and has evolved into one of our underrated treasures as a superb interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
WEAKEND WEEKLY WARS
The Philadelphia “free weekly newspaper wars” are heating up. “Philadelphia City Paper” was recently sold to “Metro,” and now, news has come that “Philadelphia Weekly” has been sold. The buyer is Broad Street Media, which owns the “Northeast Times,” the “Star” and several wire services. As part of the deal, Broad Street Media also gets the “South Philly Review.” Truth be told, the “Review” is doing better business than CP and PW combined. Both have been clocking in at around the 20 pages per issue neighborhood which is very, very thin. An incisive “Philadelphia Magazine” article a few years ago predicted that one of the two would have to go. With news of this sale, I’d bet that Broad Street Media actually made this deal to get the healthy “South Philadelphia Review” and will soon put PW out of its misery (“Philadelphia Weekly,” by the way, is the rag that mentions the word “jazz” about twice per year).
But there very well may be a “new” weekly newspaper joining the competitive fray. Those who have visited West Philadelphia through the years may have noticed, from time to time, a rather thin newspaper called the “University City Review.” Published since 1988 by Robert Christian, UCR is expanding into Center City with a new name—“Philadelphia Free Press”—and brand, spanking new honor boxes. This is in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of UCR. But what’s strange about this is that Christian has also been publishing something with a Center City focus called “The Weekly Press.” Though TWP claims to also have been in operation since 1988 and does have an online presence, I’ve never seen a print version of it. And face it, with a very few exceptions in this area, the market for print has never been worse. Why on earth would someone start a newspaper right now? Maybe Christian just likes to see his name in the paper. For more info on PFP, log on to its new web site—though it’s not up yet as of this writing—at phillyfreepress.com.
BRIAN WILLIAMS:THROUGH FOR THE NIGHT?
In that the long-running “Backstage” column continues to address “all things media,” it seems appropriate to comment on television anchor Brian Williams’ “faulty memory.” The late and legendary Walter Cronkite was, for years, considered to be among the most trusted people in America. If news anchors are shown to lack integrity, honesty and credibility, they lose that trust and have nothing. Williams now has nothing. He claims that the nonsense he repeated for a dozen years was a “mistake.” The fact is, it was a lie, and you can bet the ranch that “NBC Nightly News” has no plans to invite Williams to return after its much-publicized six-month suspension without pay (like Williams needs the bread). Sadly, and other Williams’ “mistakes” are now surfacing, he has become a discredited laughingstock. As for the future, when the dust settles—which it will—Brian Williams will likely return, either on cable or online, and there will, without doubt, be a Brian Williams book. He’s probably working on it right now. The situation is quite different for Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, who has also been publicly called out because of oft-repeated lies and exaggerations. Unlike Williams, who has been silent, O’Reilly has been fighting the allegations in his loud and blustery way, which is just what his many fans expect. What makes his situation unlike Williams’ is that O’Reilly is not a news anchor, reporter or network news managing editor. At best, he is a “personality” who has little in the way of credibility as a news person to begin with. Despite those calling for his firing, the “Morton Downey Jr. of the news business” isn’t going anywhere soon.
SEE YOU ON TV
It turns out that not everyone wants to be on television. If anyone remembers, “local public access” cable television was once one of the biggest features and selling points of cable tv. But not many folks these days seem to be interested in hosting their own, public access programs. Main Line resident George Strimmel is an exception. Four months ago, the cable station serving Lower Merion and Narberth went off the air. Three groups want the juice turned back on. Strimmel, who runs a station in Radnor that broadcasts six hours per day, is one; as are the Lower Merion Historical Society and an operation based in King of Prussia. Strimmel has said nothing about filling the broadcast day with Three Stooges’ film shorts.
PBS TV PICKS UP “FENCE”…MAKES SENSE
The acclaimed Henry Nevison/Andrea Green documentary film, “On the Other Side of the Fence,” chronicled in “Backstage” since the movie’s completion, has been picked up for broadcast by 61 PBS television stations across the nation, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia. This, as they say in the business, is “a major big deal,” as only a very, very few products are chosen for PBS distribution. Additionally, this remarkable film, which tells of the 30-year, “let’s put on a kid’s show” partnership between two schools—Germantown Friends and HMS School For Children with Cerebral Palsy–is a medal finalist for the prestigious 2015 NewYork International
Film Festival .