There’s no need to recite all the grim statistics; 2014 will be remembered as The Lost Year in Atlantic City, when four casinos closed, hurtling the resort into a financial crisis that officials are still grappling with.
But as we enter 2015, let’s not forget a fundamental truth: When it comes to casinos and tourism, Atlantic City remains a force to be reckoned with.
Let’s not forget that this city alone generates more casino revenue, by far, than nearly every state in the nation. Let’s not forget that 4 million to 5 million people take trips to Atlantic City every year — the type of big-league visitorship that most beach resorts can only dream of. And let’s not forget that there’s great potential for Atlantic City beyond the slots and table games. As you’ll see below, in 2015, that’s something smart people with deep pockets are betting on.
Rise of the Atlantic City meet market
The $126 million Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, slated to hold its first major conference in 2015, will be the most striking example of Atlantic City’s shift to an economy less reliant on gambling. Caesars Entertainment says it will be the largest, most technologically advanced meeting space from Boston to Baltimore.
Smooth sailing on Pacific Avenue
Jitney drivers rejoice! After seemingly endless delays, the notoriously pocked and patched Atlantic City strip is set to be repaved this spring.
“It's like the project that never ends,” said Tom Woodruff, president of the Atlantic City Jitney Association, whose vehicles have been clobbered on the casino corridor.
Revel Casino-Hotel, the gleaming architectural gem at the north end of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, could reopen in 2015. But will the next owner be able to accomplish what no one else has at the $2.4 billion resort and turn a profit?
Bull on the Prairie
Unphased by the spate of casino closings this summer, Wasseem Boraie, of Boraie Development, says the company is charging ahead on plans to build a 250-unit apartment complex in the desolate Pauline’s Prairie tract in the South Inlet.
“There's a lot of pent-up demand,” says Boraie, who’s bullish on the city’s future. Atlantic City, he says, is on the verge of a “second big bang.”
Tropicana is set for a space-age facelift in 2015. Plans call for huge video screens and an elaborate light and sound show that will have the resort’s Boardwalk facade looking more like Times Square than historic Havana.
The New Guard
Morris Guards Armory, the storied military social club, will become middle-market millennial housing in 2015, says Philadelphia-based developer LPMG Companies. The New York Avenue building, which boasts some of the finest brickwork in the city, is slated for a $3 million overhaul in 2015.
“We plan to keep as much of the original bones as we can,” said company President John Longacre. And rent, he said, will be “extremely competitive.”
The old college try
Hundreds of students could be living and learning on the Boardwalk this fall, as the former Showboat Casino Hotel is repurposed into Richard Stockton College’s Island Campus. The college, which bought Showboat for $18 million, also plans to run a hotel there.
Bass Pro Shops, the big-box outfitter whose name has become a byword for Atlantic City’s budding noncasino economy, plans to open a megastore this year at the mouth of the Atlantic City Expressway, where a steady stream of tourists is funneled into downtown like salmon on a run.
Blue skies over the Boardwalk
The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, one of the premier airshow squadrons in the nation, is slated to return to the Atlantic City Airshow in September after a long hiatus. The show’s high-flying acrobatics drew hundreds of thousands of spectators last year.
“You’ll hear it if you don’t see it,” says Capt. Jeff Kuss, who narrates the Blue Angels’ performance. The jets fly just below the speed of sound.
A dose of fiscal sanity
Calmer waters could be ahead for Atlantic City’s roiled finances, as sweeping tax legislation and deep spending cuts inject some sanity into the city’s chaotic economy. Still unclear, though, is how the city will tamp crushing noncasino property taxes, which rose more than 50 percent over the past two years. And the prospect of an omnipotent state appointee taking over as an “emergency manager” looms large.
Pier Shops get the Blatstein touch
Bart Blatstein, the man who builds entire Philadelphia neighborhoods from scratch, will soon reveal his grand vision for The Pier Shops, a struggling retail hub that juts out over the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic City, he’s said, “wasn’t something on my radar.” But fire-sale prices here — Blatstein reportedly paid $2.5 million for the complex, developed for $200 million — apparently caught his attention.
Atlantic City could be Gov. Chris Christie’s greatest political millstone if he announces a run for the presidency in 2015. Whether he fails to get the city back on track despite a 2011 overhaul of gambling and tourism regulations will likely be a pressure point seized on by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Big plans for the Basin
A plan to transform Gardner’s Basin into something akin to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor could start taking shape this spring, says Mayor Don Guardian, who envisions six to 12 restaurants and 30 to 40 shops in the bayside district.
Reinventing the wheel
Don’t call it a Ferris wheel. A 220-foot, climate-controlled, Wi-Fi-equipped observation wheel will be part of a 30,000-square-foot expansion of Steel Pier planned for 2015, as Atlantic City pines to rebrand itself as a family-friendly resort. The pier, which has added 12 new rides since 2012, “is the epicenter of the transition,” CEO Anthony Catanoso says.
Still a casino juggernaut
Its painful “right-sizing” largely over, the Atlantic City casino industry could see relative stability in 2015, as surviving casinos absorb gamblers orphaned by closed properties and enjoy one of the largest gambling markets in the nation.
Contact Reuben Kramer:
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