Clock Is Ticking On Atlantic City’s Redevelopment
This is the first part of a five-day series exploring Atlantic City's revitalization efforts.
If you've traveled down to "Do AC", then you might have noticed the changes; Boardwalk ambassadors, more police officers by shops and casinos, and new things to do that don't require you to be 21 and have lady luck by your side. All of those things are part of a concerted effort to push the revitalization of the city, and like a hot streak at the craps table, time is ticking -- and results need to be seen.
It's been two years since the governor and state legislature signed the S-11 bill into law, changing the way gambling is regulated and shifting the focus towards creating Atlantic City into a destination for vacationers and day trippers.
One of the main provisions of S-11 was creating the "Tourism District", which would create a focal point towards which tourism could be directed. Specifically, an increased focus towards non gaming activities.
Administration and management over the Tourism District to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), which in turn allowed the CRDA to set the design guidelines, land use regulation, and create a master plan for the District, all of which would supersede the existing zoning and land use ordinances as well as the city's master plan.
After months developing a master plan for the Tourism District, which stretches from Albany Avenue to the Absecon Inlet and from the coast until Bacharach Avenue, the summer of 2012 was the first under which the CRDA's three point plan went into effect.
CREATING A CLEAN, SAFE ENVIRONMENT
Not surprisingly, CRDA director Jon Palmieri is pleased with the results from the first few months out. He notes the core mantra has always been "clean and safe", which meant the first changes involved getting the streets clean and tourists feeling at ease.
"The master plan is a longer term plan but we wanted to focus on the initiatives we wanted to do first along the way, and for us that means creating a clean and safe environment. "
Palmieri notes the amount of Boardwalk Ambassadors has been multiplied four times over, from 15 originally planned to 65, and class two police officers are stationed throughout the Tourism District. Additionally, they are working with casinos to boost security in and around their properties.
Starting in the fall Palmieri notes an eight million dollar initiative will begin towards working on aesthetic improvements on Atlantic Avenue.
The changes already introduced this summer are important because especially with casino gambling revenues down the focus is more on Palmieri and his team. The CRDA head however says early metrics are showing positive results.
"Luxury tax revenues have been going up for the past three years, we expect it to go up based on what we're seeing this year. That's a very important measurement that identifies expenditures beyond the gaming tables."
While preliminary results may be encouraging, Palmieri says right now much of the money has come from CRDA doing the seeding. Which although expected early on, means now is the time for private investors to be stepping up.
"The important thing for us is to encourage private investment, in the final analysis we want more visitors to come. "
That isn't to say private investment isn't coming, Palmieri points to some partners who have begun climbing aboard-including the recent announcement of a Margaritaville on the beach. A 35 million construction that will include a year-round beach bar, 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar, Landshark Bar and Grill, retail stores, and coffee shop.
It's all part of building a certain "excitement" for the city notes Palmieri. He cites the major concerts at Bader Field as well as shows at the newly opened Revel Casino as draws to get the the mindset of the city to change.
" Madonna, Beyonce, all of the big names that this city draws will be enhanced and increased over time."
DO AC CAMPAIGN CREATES HYPE
Much of the "hype" over Atlantic City that Palmieri is very mindful to leverage into private investment is coming from the "Do AC" marketing campaign that has been seen everywhere from busses to billboards.
The campaign is organized by the Atlantic City Alliance (ACA), a private not-for-profit entity formed to market Atlantic City.
The advertisements try to change the perception of the city as a happening location rather than your grandparent's weekend getaway, and ACA head Liz Cartmell says the early feedback towards the campaign is very positive.
"We're very pleased with the results. Our researchers actually told us that it was unusual to see a significant increase in improvement in perceptions of a destination based on just a couple of months."
All of that is important, since as Palmieri notes "Governor Christie has made it clear that we have a short window."
With thirty million going to the re-branding campaign of AC and a lot of public money going towards much of the investment (17 of the 35 million used for the Margarittaville complex is expected to come from public funds) , Palmieri understands there are expectations for results-and quick.
The Master Plan addresses projects in one, three, and five year phases, but delivretly doesn't go any further."
"We've got to make demonstrable progress, quickly. This is not the time for the long term plan, it really isn't. "