In 1968, Anthony Catanoso, age 10, saw The Supremes on his first visit to Atlantic City’s fabled Steel Pier. In 2011, the amusement park developer purchased the one-time “Showplace of the Nation.” Like Atlantic City’s turnaround, it took consummate vision, determination—and guts.

“Destroyed by fire in 1982, the Pier was rebuilt using steel and concrete,” Catanoso recalled. “Acquired by Trump Taj Mahal, foundations were installed for a 20-story condo-hotel-casino. That never materialized, and with the 1,000-foot deck undeveloped save a helipad, I envisioned its revival as an amusement park.”

That was in 1992. What followed was a two-decade roller coaster ride of one- and two-year leases.

“And, Taj management kept terminating us, but Donald Trump helped by overruling them,” Catanoso said. “Most investors would have walked—it took more guts than brains.”

Catanoso’s perseverance paid off. In 2011, the Catanoso family purchased the Pier during the Taj’s liquidation. Since then, they have invested heavily in their acquisition, including adding the Observation Wheel at Steer Pier, the nation’s third-highest observation wheel.

Announced in 2014, the $14 million project’s head-spinning challenges included getting 4.5 million pounds of concrete and three 250-ton cranes across the historic Boardwalk onto the Pier.

True “turnaround” specialists, Catanoso and his team rose to the occasion, creating Atlantic City’s first year-round, non-gaming attraction. Slated to open last month, the group-capable 227-foot tall Wheel, manufactured in Italy and carrying 40 climate-controlled gondolas, features a reception area at its base. With other versatile venues that include the full-service Ocean Oasis, the Pier team works closely with the resort-casinos to bring in groups. Close to Resorts Casino Hotel, the Hard Rock project, Showboat Hotel and Revel (currently undergoing a rebranding), the LED-lit Pier looms large as a beacon of change.  

“People have no clue about Atlantic City’s real story,” Catanoso said, echoing widespread local frustration with persistent negative press. “Withstanding the onslaught of regional competition over the last decade, our $2.5 billion casino market remains second-largest in the nation. Nowhere can match our beach, Boardwalk and history. The real story is growth and optimism—and we are bullish on the future.”