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Where the Boardwalk Ends: Photographs by Mark Ostow, Essay by Elizabeth Murphy

At the far south end of the boardwalk, one door down from the entrance to the Tropicana, the window of a Hooters franchise advertises its famous buffalo wings. Just below the window, three dead sparrows lie still on their sides. Set against the wooden planks, they appear flattened or deflated.  It is just after midnight.  Two hours later an additional three birds lay dead, having hit the same glass panel.

Obviously, the birds are not seeing the window for what it is. Passing by these small tragedies, one can’t help but wonder if there is a solution to the problem of birds that depart the tall sea grasses beyond the boardwalk only to fly unwittingly into a Hooters. But whatever the potential solutions one weighs, one is charged with a dreadful certainty: something here doesn’t belong.

A similar feeling comes on when, at the opposite end of the strip, just past the Showboat, the boardwalk suddenly comes to an end. In order to accommodate the construction of a twenty-acre casino development project begun by Revel Entertainment Group, work crews tore up the walk, replacing it with the foundation of what promised to be Atlantic City’s premiere resort and entertainment center.

Plans for the building of the Revel Casino began in 2007. When first announced, the project was praised as the answer to Atlantic City’s biggest problems. But in January 2009, after several major setbacks, Revel began running out of money and laying off workers. Eventually, construction came to a halt. Earlier this year, two key investors backed out (Morgan Stanley and the Export-Import Bank of China), leaving Revel $1 billion dollars short on a project totaling twice that. Today, the partially completed structure sits idle, excepting the attention it receives when burst windows and falling debris pose safety risks.

Surrounding the site are the remnants of a community: the very few homes and businesses that have managed to stick it out, albeit in the alternating glare and shadow cast by this 47-story structure. Empty lots of beachfront property where homes once stood are staked with For Sale signs, the owners awaiting a price that only the opening of Revel, or perhaps its razing, might bring.

In height, Revel is 710 feet of steel and glass. Altogether, the completed tower’s windowed area dwarfs that of the Hooters franchise by approximately 1,775 times. Viewed as a hindrance to the comings and goings of coastal birds, Revel is remarkable. But more significantly, examined as a hindrance to the surrounding community—it is phenomenal. Revel is a colossus, a lodestone. Looking carefully up at the windows that have been replaced by boards, one sees a building being destroyed by its own emptiness. And the emptiness spreads in the forms of neglected lots and abandoned homes. “Rhymes with Devil,” observed one fed-up resident.

Plans to reconnect the boardwalks on either side of the casino were abandoned along with construction. The businesses flanking the Revel tower remain cut off to vital foot traffic and pushcarts. A small lunch spot at the amputated end of the boardwalk, recently opened by two brothers, stands no chance, at least not until repairs are made. Neighborhoods and their residents, too, are suffering this strange isolation.  The socio-economic struggle of these neighborhoods predates Revel, to be sure. But an unnecessary reminder, and exacerbation of that struggle is reflected in a structure that is at once massive and useless, shining and dilapidated. Very surely, something here doesn’t belong.

Mark Ostow is a photographer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose focus has been on portraits for magazines and advertising. His work has captured the likenesses of personalities ranging from Denis Leary to Doris Kearns Goodwin. His photographs of Revel demonstrate Ostow’s first foray into urban landscape. He is simultaneously pursuing a growing interest in moving images with a documentary on Atlantic City, New Jersey—likewise a portrait of sorts.

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