“BACKSTAGE WITH BRUCE KLAUBER”: November, 2014
A BARGAIN AT ANY PRICE
It’s bargain basement time in Atlantic City and for good reason. With the closing of Revel, Showboat, Atlantic Club, and Trump Plaza hotel/casinos, properties are being sold for less than five cents on a dollar. The Toronto-based Brookfield Associates, which owns a casino in Vegas and in the Bahamas, has agreed to buy the beleaguered property, built for a cost of $2.4 billion, for $110 million. After addressing some design issues—like, how in the hell do you get the casino floor?—Brookfield plans to reopen it as a hotel and casino. But it’s not chicken counting time for Brookfield yet. The outfit agreed to buy Revel. There is no closing date set. Then there’s the matter of the $30 million that Revel owes in property taxes and penalties to Atlantic City. The bottom line is, Revel has got the “white elephant” label attached to it and in this business, there aren’t a lot of second chances.
Trump Taj Mahal has been given a reprieve for the moment, with the emphasis on the word moment. A federal bankruptcy judge voided the struggling casino’s contract with its union workers, a big part of Taj’s strategy to keep the casino open and save 3,000 jobs. To say the least, union members are livid as is Local 54. Funny, when the musician’s union in Atlantic City stopped protecting its members, they didn’t need a court order. They just did it and no one seemed to care. Still, current owner Carl Icahn says that the Taj “will almost certainly close.” What a shame that would be. The Taj Mahal had a wonderful White House Subs shop upstairs.
From 1905 to 1981, the amusement pier at Arkansas Avenue and the Boardwalk was called the Million Dollar Pier. It then became something called “Ocean One,” a combination of low-rent retail stores and restaurants. It then became, at a cost of some $200 million, The Pier Shops at Caesars, revamped in 2006 and featuring high-end shops like Gucci and Tiffany. Like the Revel situation, The Pier Shops concept was a case of the wrong time and the wrong place. Many of the retail spaces have been vacant for years, and it’s been reported that the property was in foreclosure at one point. Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, who knows a good deal when he sees it, just bought the Pier Shops property for an absolutely incredible $2.5 million. Blatstein has not been forthcoming with details yet, except to say, “It’s going to be better than what it was.” Some developer has to build a year-round entertainment complex in Atlantic City, a town that, unbelievably, doesn’t even have a movie theater. Bet on Blatstein to do it.
THE LOST DAVID BOWIE TAPES: GUESS WHO HAS THEM?
You wouldn’t think that Drexel University and David Bowie would have much in common, but in fact, they do. In the mid-1970s, just about every pop artist wanted to record at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, hoping to hop on the “Sound of Philadelphia” hit-making bandwagon. Bowie was one of those artists, and recorded part of his ninth studio album, “Young Americans,” at Sigma from August to November of 1974. In 2005, Sigma donated 6,200 master tapes to Drexel, now a part of what’s called the “Sigma Sound Studios Collection in the Drexel University Audio Archives,” but tapes from the Bowie sessions were not among them and were thought to be lost. Not long ago, Bowie discovered that the long lost tapes, which contained a bunch of alternate takes and unreleased titles, were up for bid on ebay, of all places, Bowie bought his own tapes back, then contacted the Director of the Drexel Collection, Toby Seay, to digitize the tracks. As a courtesy, Bowie donated the digital tracks to Drexel. Here’s the link to more info about the collection: http://www.drexel.edu/westphal/undergraduate/MIP/SigmaSoundArchives.
In related news, the headquarters of Sigma’s most famous client, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, will soon be no more. The legendary record label’s building at Broad and Spruce Street, damaged by arson in 2010, will be torn down. An outfit called SLS International Development will build their headquarters on the property. As for Gamble and Huff’s archives? Gamble would like to see a museum in the city to house all the memorabilia.
HOAGIES AT GENO’S STEAKS? IT’S TRUE
Say it isn’t so! The semi-legendary Geno’s Steaks—that’s the one with the neon signs—is now offering hoagies in addition to its cheesesteak and roast pork mainstays. Geno’s did offer hoagies years ago but discontinued them when they found out they were simply too much trouble to make. But they’re back, and if you simply must try one, it will cost $9.50.
Good news for another notable Philadelphia eatery, the Reading Terminal Market. The famed space has been named one of the “10 Great Public Spaces in America” by the Chicago-based non-profit known as the American Planning Association. What stood out about Reading for APA president elect Carol Rhea, was that all of the 80 or so vendor spaces within the market are “100 percent locally owned and run.”
CAN WE STILL TALK?
Even though Joan Rivers has left the building, she apparently has one last book in her. Seems that her will stipulates that executors get a publishing deal for—get this—her personal diaries, said to trash just about everyone in show business and politics. Among her various “assertions” is that President Obama is gay. Hoo boy. Word on the street is that the River’s diaries might be a tough sell, given the less-than-sensitive subject matter. In the meantime, Rivers’ last book, “Diary of a Mad Diva,” experienced an amazing spike in sales, and quickly rose to number two on Amazon’s best seller list. And in another, not-unexpected Rivers tidbit, daughter Melissa has hired a hot-shot law firm to file a medical malpractice suit against the clinic where mom died last month. The younger Rivers, it seems, “wants answers.” Anyone with any experience in this area will tell you that when the deceased is 81 years of age and likely signed something that spelled out the complications of anesthesia, etc., proving wrongful death won’t be easy.
CHANGES AT CURTIS
Elizabeth Warshawer, administrative chief of the Curtis Institute sine 2008, has announced that she will leave her post on May 31. Warshawer contributed a great deal to this venerable institution during her tenure, including putting in place a strategic plan that helped raise $158 in donations. Reason for her departure? “It’s time for me to invent the next chapter of my professional career,” she said.
In case you missed this, CBS Television just launched a $6 per month streaming service here and in 13 other cities. This happened a day after Time Warner announced that it would offer HBO as a stand alone internet service. The on-demand service, which can be ordered from www.cbs.com, will make thousands of CBS shows available, including15 prime time programs that will be available online the day after they air. There must be something to this streaming thing. The country’s number two cable television operation, Time Warner lost in the neighborhood of 184,000 in the three month period ending September 30. Time Warner lost more than 150,000 viewers in the quarter before. Makes you wonder why Comcast is buying the outfit for $45.3 billion. One thing is for certain: Mass media will always evolve. Look where you’re reading this.
NO HEART FOR ART
According to a report from the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, our area’s arts and cultural organizations experienced a “modest, uneven recovery” over the last three years. The report says that two out of five organizations operated at a loss last year, and 150 have been forced to downsize over the last three years. Curiously, during the heart of the recession, donations from individuals rose while corporate support fell 36 percent. According to Alliance interim head Michael Norris, “We believe part of the stagnation in contributed income is due to a misperception of what we do as arts organizations.” Truth be told, the issue has nothing to do with “misperception.” The problem is simple: Lack of money. The Alliance’s report was issued in tandem with the announcement of a new president. The new prez is Maud Lyon, who comes to the Alliance from CultureSource, a professional association of arts and culture nonprofit organizations serving the Detroit area. Perhaps Ms. Lyon can address that pesky issue of “a misperception of what we do as arts organizations.”
CURTAINS FOR PRINCE
Here’s one venue that won’t be having a “modest, uneven recovery.” Word has come that the long-troubled Prince Music Theater in Center City Philadelphia is closing. This time, in all likelihood, for good. In May, Prince Board Chairman Herb Lotman died, and his heirs had no interest in continuing to run or fund the venue, nor did anyone else. It’s not that Prince wasn’t doing business and it’s not that their expenses were particularly high. After emerging from a 2010 bankruptcy last year, all of Prince’s productions–theatrical and cabaret–were produced on a “four-wall” basis, i.e., outside producers rented the facility, staged the shows, paid for production costs and advertising. Prince has bookings until the end of November, and then expects to shut its doors. The facility has been around since 1921, first as the Karlton Theater and in 1950 as the Midtown. What will become of it after November 30? Do the words Rite Aid sound familiar?
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