After Alliance ends, who will promote Atlantic City?
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Abolishing the Atlantic City Alliance, the marketing arm of the casinos that urged people to "Do AC" and staged big, free public events to promote the resort city, is a key element of state plans to help the city recover from its financial crisis.
The marketing group's $30 million would be used to help the city in other ways, by helping its municipal finances or to fund a development agency to attract new business and homes here.
But if legislation proposed by two Democratic state senators -- one of them a former Atlantic City mayor -- passes, no one will be tasked with promoting Atlantic City as a unified resort.
"Individual casinos have done promotion and held beach concerts in the past, and they'll continue to do so in the future," said Sen. James Whelan. "But things have changed now. We're in an emergency situation, and there are more urgent needs for the money the alliance had been using could be put to better uses, even if it means no one is promoting the resort as a whole."
State Senate president Steven Sweeney said the recommendation to end the alliance came from the casinos that were paying for it.
"The casinos, they were going to continue to market," he said. "They felt when they voted to eliminate it, and we agreed, that those dollars right now are very important to stabilizing the situation in Atlantic City."
Tom Balance, chairman of the alliance and president of the Borgata, the city's top casino, said the group was a great idea that is now unaffordable.
"Atlantic City is on the brink if bold actions are not taken in the very near term," he said.
The alliance was formed in 2011 as a way to promote Atlantic City to other parts of the country. It is best known for creating the "Do AC" tourism slogan, and holding free beach concerts with country music stars Blake Shelton and Lady Antebellum, both of which drew tens of thousands of tourists to the beachfront and generated what the alliance said was $23 million in visitor spending.
It took the lead in correcting erroneous news reports that Atlantic City's Boardwalk was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy (only a two-block section of closed-off, deteriorated walkway that was already slated for demolition was affected), and held mobile promotional road shows in Philadelphia and New York.
The alliance was funded by cash the casinos used to have to pay to the horse racing industry as a subsidy in return for keeping slot machines out of the racetracks. Gov. Chris Christie ended those payments and ordered that the money go to promote Atlantic City.
But Jon Hanson, a Christie confidante heading a commission studying ways to help save Atlantic City, said the alliance's work was good but was not enough to drive meaningful increases in visitation and spending.
And the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority can't pick up the slack and promote the resort, Executive Director John Palmieri said. A major source of its own funding would be eliminated by the proposed bills when investment alternative taxes would be redirected to help pay down the city's debt.
"We don't have a budget for that; that's the entire reason the ACA was set up," he said.
Jeff Guaracino, who took over as head of the alliance this month, said the group did the best it could to polish Atlantic City's image, and get people to visit.
"It is widely acknowledged that the ACA has improved the image of Atlantic City and driven visitation and defended Atlantic City through crises -- murders and hurricanes and layoffs," he said. "What you're hearing now is that there is a new crisis, and that $30 million is not insignificant."
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