Atlantic City Leaders Point to Improvement Projects

Despite the constant bad news coming from Atlantic City’s casino industry, Atlantic City Mayor Donald Guardian (l.) is pointing to a number of projects on the horizon they hope will continue to transition the resort away from casino dependency. Among them is the construction of a new seaport area, a city campus for Richard Stockton College, a conference center at Resorts, and more family-friendly attractions.

Despite what you may have heard, not everything in Atlantic City is going under. Some things may be going up.

As casinos close along the city’s famous Boardwalk, city officials are pointing to the future—and what they hope to build—rather than what is dying. In the end, they hope to have a city a lot less dependent on casinos and a lot friendlier to families.

It’s been a constant theme from city officials as four casinos have closed in the resort this year and a fifth—the Taj Mahal—will likely close December 12. But at a recent conference of city officials and business leaders, officials pointed to concrete plans in the works for the city.

Atlantic City Mayor Donald Guardian led the way pointing to a plan to expand the small Gardner’s Basin seaport in the city into a major tourist development.

Guardian said construction will begin next spring on a $35 million project to build a protective seawall on the city’s north shore and extend the Boardwalk to Gardner’s Basin. The project is set to be completed by the end of 2016, he said.

Plans call for 22 acres in Gardner’s Basin itself to be developed in the project with restaurants and shops. The total project would be equal in size to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Guardian also outlined plans to improve safety on the city’s Boardwalk, which he called the city’s gem.

Guardian said he wants to restore the “wow factor” to the world famous walkway and emphasize improvements to its amenities and cleanliness, Plans also call for a new group of Class II police officers to patrol the Boardwalk.

Guardian also pointed to Richard Stockton College’s planned expansion into the former Showboat Casino Hotel to build a city campus as a major plus for the resort.

Officials at the conference said the city has failed to utilize the large tracts of vacant land in the city for such improvements, but those times are changing.

But casinos aren’t being left out of the process.

Tony Rodio, CEO and president of Tropicana Casino and Resort, outlined $35 million in additions and renovations scheduled for the property, including a massive Boardwalk light show set to debut by Memorial Day.

Major business meeting and conference space is also being added at Harrah’s Resort and Resorts Casino hotel.

Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, also outlined plans for The Pier Shops at Caesars which he purchased for $2.5 million in September. The ocean-pier mall has never been able to thrive under a series of owners.

Blatstein said he hopes to completely fill the mall with major developments beginning after Jan. 1. He said he is seeking businesses that cater to 25- to 40-year-old singles and will turn the Pier into a destination on its own.

In an effort to diversify its property, Resorts Atlantic City has announced it will the corporate meetings market by building a new $9.3 million conference center.

Construction is scheduled to begin in February and be completed by July, casino officials said at a meeting of the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. Casino officials said they want the center open for the busy summer season in the resort.

The center will cater to smaller corporate meetings, a segment of the market that is generally under-served in Atlantic City, casino officials said.

Plans call for 11 meeting rooms and 12,000 square feet of space. The project is designed to tie in with $60 million in upgrades made to Resorts’ casino floor, hotel rooms and non-gambling attractions.

CRDA will help finance the conference center by advancing Resorts $3.6 million of its reinvestment credits with the agency. The casino will later seek reimbursement of $5.7 million of future reinvestment payments to the CRDA to complete the project’s funding, officials said.

Harrah’s casino resort in the city is also building a business meeting center in the city, but on a much larger scale. Harrah’s is completing a $126 million conference center scheduled to open next year.