Piano tuner's Atlantic City property fight goes on, even after Revel casino's closing

Industries Associated Press

A New Jersey man battling the state to save his family home in the shadow of the closed Revel Casino Hotel may soon get a resolution to his eminent domain fight.

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A Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear final arguments in Charlie Birnbaum's case against the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority on Tuesday, though it's unclear when a ruling will come.

Birnbaum, 67, doesn't live in the three-story brick house on Oriental Avenue, but he is there often. The piano tuner uses the first floor of the building — bought by his parents in 1969 — for his business and rents the top two floors to tenants. Birnbaum's house is one of the few inhabited buildings on the block and overlooks a large swath of vacant land. He said he was shocked when he learned that the CRDA wanted to use his land for development.

"I was so blindsided," Birnbaum said in the house last week, noting that the opening of the $2.4 billion Revel two years ago spurred hope for a turnaround in Atlantic City. "With this vacant ground in front of me, they have plenty to develop. That's really what was so hard to understand."

Robert McNamara, an attorney representing Birnbaum from the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, said the CRDA doesn't have specific plans for the land, other than take it and "think really hard about what they're going to do with it."

The CRDA has said it needs the property to create a tourism district and is not obligated to disclose what specific stores will occupy the property, court records show.

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The case "has to do with whether the CRDA has the opportunity to take properties, including Mr. Birnbaum's, so that Atlantic City can continue to grow economically," said Stuart Lederman, an attorney representing the CRDA.

Birnbaum said he was offered about $240,000 for the property. He said would leave if he was given a detailed plan for the land.

Andrew Willis, a spokesman for Brookfield Asset Management, which bought Revel earlier this month out of bankruptcy, declined comment on Birnbaum's case or what the company envisions for the area around the tower.

"Brookfield has not closed the acquisition of Revel, so we are not the owners of the property," Willis said in an email. "It would be inappropriate for Brookfield to comment on anything to do with Revel at this time."