Real estate investing has always been risky business for people like you and me. But Wasseem Boraie of Boraie Development has real estate investing in his blood. His family’s development company – Boraie Development – began development of the Atlantic City area in 2018. Despite raised eyebrows, Boraie has deemed the company’s Atlantic City development project a success in many ways. As well as booming initial financial success, the firm also sees the development of a new, residentially-oriented Atlantic City as a plus for the city and its residents.
A Vision That Broke The Mold
Atlantic City doesn’t have the best reputation for long-term living.
It’s known as a boom-and-bust city, built on big dreams that don’t last. Bruce Springsteen immortalized it in his song of the same name as a city where people go on a vacation/short break to forget the hardships of their everyday lives. Big dreams aside, Atlantic City also has a history of high crime rates, unsubstantial public transportation, and not much to do outside of tourist season. The New York Post unflatteringly called it “a city built on failure.”
Wasseem Boraie saw Atlantic City differently – calling Atlantic City the “gem of New Jersey.” So did the people leasing residences at his first Atlantic City housing development.
In 2018, Boraie Development spent $85 million on 600 NoBe residences (short for North Beach) in Atlantic City’s South Inlet neighborhood. NoBe met half capacity for leasing in months, which was well ahead of Boraie’s original schedule and a surprise for many native to the area. Before this development, South Inlet had not seen much other than a Casino for quite some time.
Atlantic City wiped out residences before the 1960s to make way for a constant stream of failing businesses. For Boraie, vice president of the development company, this proved that his dream for Atlantic City could quickly become a reality. Atlantic City didn’t have to be a gambling city with a bad reputation – it could be a city for people to live and thrive in.
The catalyst for this vision? A Hard Rock Café, among other things.
Atlantic City Changing Shape
Although the Hard Rock Café was not the only business to go in within recent years, Wasseem Boraie credits it as the business that turned things around. Stockton University’s first beachfront campus year began the year Boraie started leasing his NoBe residences. The introduction of the Hard Rock Cafe was another thing that told Wasseem Boraie that his vision was likely with merit.
“What Hard Rock did is what really created our neighborhood,” said Wasseem Boraie. “If they weren’t here, it would be a much different neighborhood because the amount of traffic has quadrupled because of them being here. They helped create the destination.”
Wasseem Boraie also knew that changing the very nature of the neighborhood would help shape Atlantic City into the residential mecca he saw it as. “It’s not like we just took a 20,000-square-foot piece of land and threw up a building. We took four acres. We took about a block and a half of a city and put 250 residential units on it. That, by itself, created a neighborhood because of the sheer size of the development.”
Atlantic City created a space for a community in the eyes of Boraie Development. But it also seemed like a natural next step for Wasseem Boraie. “If you look at Long Branch…Asbury Park, [and the areas] surrounding Atlantic City, they’re just doing incredibly well on the residential front.”
Boraie Development is not new to working on seemingly “undevelopable” land. The company is based in New Brunswick, which people in the area did not think was profitable for quite some time. For Boraie, this seemed like an opportunity. Some essential parts of the thriving residential neighborhood puzzle were already there, and some were not. New Brunswick is surrounded by water and is a veritable treasure trove for vacationers — that was a good puzzle piece. Atlantic City is similar.
“People thought [New Brunswick] was a dead market. Then my dad put up a highrise with some units selling for a million bucks, and every developer wanted to be in New Brunswick. I think once people see new products on the street in Atlantic City, you’ll see more developers say, ‘Land is properly priced now. Let’s give it a shot.’”
The Other Piece Of The Puzzle? The People
Atlantic City, according to Wasseem Boraie, faces a couple of challenges. Still, he has plans for both the customer-facing side of Atlantic City sales and the city’s longevity, challenges aside. For his optimism, he cites the city’s 100+ years of tourism.
“The lack of real opportunity to buy land and build new products was why Atlantic City had a reputation of a place no one wanted to live…for us, if you did build a small development, it would not create the right catalyst for the city. So we decided to go all in and do 250 units in the first phase,” he said. One of the last things Boraie says will make a change for keeping people in residences? Bringing in a supermarket, which the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is working on.
But even without a supermarket, and with all the things that investors say are not a good sign for residential longevity, people have lived there for some time. “There are more than 16,000 private residences in Atlantic City, and more than 60 percent of them are rentals. Instead of saying no one lives in A.C., I would restate that as, ‘No one lives in a new rental in A.C.’ There are more than 10,000 renters in Atlantic City and more than 30,000 renters in Atlantic County, so I think 1,500 or 2,000 units of new residential over the next five to seven years will be easily absorbed in Atlantic City. If Asbury Park and Wildwood can do it just by cleaning up their boardwalk and immediate surrounding areas, then Atlantic City can do it.”
Ultimately, though, Wasseem Boraie sees his Atlantic City project as building a foundation for the future of Atlantic City residents. Of that matter, he said, “Maybe what comes out of this is that neighborhoods matter, sidewalks matter, streetscapes matter — things that all other urban areas are dealing with. Maybe Atlantic City takes whatever is left of the PILOT and sales taxes coming into the town and says, ‘We’re going to invest by connecting our sidewalks, by connecting these abandoned building lots, by connecting the boardwalk.’ I think that will create a positive quality of life.”