Optimism high in Atlantic City for 2018

January 1, 2018 Press of Atlantic City

Nicholas Huba

ATLANTIC CITY — For the first time in five years, the city will celebrate openings rather than mourn casino closings in 2018.

“At the start of the year, there is always optimism, and with more than a $1 billion in investment, there is a reason for that in the city,” said incoming Mayor Frank Gilliam. “We want the city to be successful not just next year, but for years to come. We hope over the next five to seven years that we make the city the model for the rest of the state.”

For the last decade, the resort has seen property values fall, the casino industry shed more than 11,000 jobs and the poverty rate increase dramatically. But with more than $800 million worth of private investment projects in the city set to open, some think that the city is going through a renaissance period.

The opening of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, the Stockton University Gateway project, The Beach at South Inlet and the possible reopening of Revel suggest that the city is turning the corner and headed for better times.

In addition to the development project, the resort could also see major benefits if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the federal ban on sports betting.

“In general next year is going to be a very positive year for the city, I don’t know how it can’t be minus a hurricane,” outgoing Mayor Don Guardian said in December. “You have more than 3,500 jobs that are coming, not counting Revel.”

In summer 2018, Hard Rock is expected to open its casino hotel. The company plans to spend $500 million renovating and rebranding the property. The project is expected to generate more than 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, according to the company. Around the same time the $81 million Beaches at South Inlet are expected to open. The residential complex, which will feature 250 apartments, will help rejuvenate the city’s aging housing stock.

“All things considered, 2018 shapes up as a very good year for Atlantic City if only because of Hard Rock,” said Anthony Marino, an independent transportation analyst. “If anything significant is implemented at Showboat or Revel/Ten next year AC may really be on a roll.”

The opening of Hard Rock should lead to more people coming to the city, said Marino.

“One thing I feel comfortable in predicting is that in 2018 the number of visit-trips will increase, snapping a 12 year streak of annual decreases since visitor numbers peaked in 2005 at just under 35 million,” Marino said.

Growing the casino gaming market in the city will be critical to Hard Rock and other casinos success, said Brian Tyrrell, professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton.

“A new property certainly gives you a reason to come down,” Brian Tyrrell, professor of hospitality and tourism management studies at Stockton said. “If Hard Rock grows the market it will help all properties.”

A couple of months after Hard Rock opens, Stockton plans to open its 675,000-square-foot, $220 million Gateway Project — the new headquarters for South Jersey Gas and a campus for the university that includes an academic building, housing for more than 500 students and a parking garage.

“Stockton’s Gateway Campus will open next year and begin the much needed process of diversifying Atlantic City’s economy and perhaps help to change the city’s overall image,” Marino said. “But it may take at least five years for Stockton’s growing campus to fully impact developments in other areas of the city.”

Besides large scale projects like Hard Rock and Stockton, smaller project like the ongoing Tennessee Avenue Transformation project and a beer garden on the Boardwalk between South California and South Belmont avenues are set to open.

If legalized sports betting could provide a huge boost for casino operators. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case during the summer. If the ban is struck down, New Jersey is expected to generate more than $173 million in additional tax revenue and see the creation of more than 3,633 jobs, according to a study from Oxford Economics.

Nationally, 32 states likely would offer sports betting within five years.

“Sports betting, if legalized next year, appears to be at least initially a major benefit to New Jersey because most Atlantic City casinos are clearly eager and ready to open major sports betting venues immediately,” Marino said.