Atlantic City, NJ could learn a lot from Asbury Park’s resurgence (Opinion)
Last week, two busloads of Atlantic City officials, activists, and business owners made the trek from the A.C. Convention Center up to Asbury Park.
Their goal was simple: Receive tips and insight from the movers and shakers in Asbury Park that helped convert the Monmouth County shore town from a city of ruins to a thriving destination for locals and tourists alike, boasting a booming and diverse local economy in the process.
Atlantic City, on the other hand, has fallen on hard times. From abandoned homes and buildings piling up and a revolving door of casinos and resorts struggling to keep up with the competition, to a lack of tourism interest and a spike in crime, a perfect storm has formed.
In the early 20th century, Atlantic City was the gold standard for vacation destinations, most notably for people from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Organized crime was prominent, but not even that or Prohibition could curtail the myriad of reasons to visit the city once dubbed "America's Playground."
According to the Press of Atlantic City, those who made the trip up from A.C. last week toured businesses and walked the Asbury Park boardwalk and downtown area.
Unsurprisingly, several of the Asbury Park hosts touched on the importance of live music.
The legendary Stone Pony hosting sold-out outdoor concerts and fans filling up the beach for multi-day music festivals with A-list headliners are routine now for Asbury Park. Not bad for a town of less than 20,000 people, and a far cry from what it was like 20 years ago.
Will music be the only variable that brings Atlantic City back from the dead? Probably not. There are plenty of shows to go see at venues in A.C. The difference is that Asbury Park has worked its rich music history into the city's redevelopment.
But not even the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys who Mary sent away can do it alone.
I asked Asbury Park Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn what else, aside from music, Atlantic City can learn from Asbury Park's redevelopment. Amy had three answers:
1. An involved community.
2. Strong design guidelines, making sure that buildings meet the street.
3. An inviting boardwalk for both locals and tourists.
When A.C. was 'America's Playground'
There was a time when Atlantic City was perhaps the most inviting destination of all. Just as much of a family vacation spot as it was a gambling and party haven. But once the 1950s came around things began to change.
As the Atlantic City Public Library points out, once air travel to resort destinations like Florida and the Caribbean became popular in the 50s, it became clear A.C.'s prime was in the rearview mirror.
Of course, there's also the Vegas factor. The Las Vegas strip expansion and redevelopment in the 1990s took eyes off of Atlantic City. Then, perhaps the worst-case scenario happened: Competition closer to home.
Easily accessible gambling resort destinations like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, along with a slew of casinos in Pennsylvania and even around New York City took Atlantic City completely off the radar for a lot of people in the tri-state area looking for a quick getaway.
Making losing bets
Fast forward to 2021. Sports betting is now legal statewide from your phone, and these betting apps typically offer online blackjack, slot machines and more. Sports betting and casino games were once Atlantic City exclusives in New Jersey, but now you're two clicks away from scratching the itch.
There were other factors, too: Abandoning the family-friendly entertainment model and going all-in on gambling while being too dependent on tourism to keep the local economy afloat, the housing crisis, and of course some good ol' fashioned Jersey corruption over the years.
As bad as all of these factors have made circumstances in Atlantic City, it's refreshing to see those currently trying to weather the storm look to other New Jersey rebound success stories for inspiration.
An Atlantic City rebirth would be a great thing for New Jersey, but it won't happen overnight. And it won't happen without the focus and dedication of the very people that made their way to Asbury Park via bus for inspiration.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer, and host Joe Votruba. Any opinions expressed are his own.