ATLANTIC CITY — Over the last few months, the city has seen its optimism grow as a wave of good news has hit the city.
Talk of the city’s struggling finances and casino closings has been replaced by discussions over the opening of Stockton University’s Gateway Project and Hard Rock’s new casino at the former site of the closed Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in 2018.
The two projects have been viewed, by some, as a sign that the city’s next boom era is on the horizon. While the projects are a sign the city is moving in the right direction, some experts think expectations should be dialed back.
Before these projects come online, the city must navigate a year of anticipation and two major political races that could impact the state’s role in the city. In November, voters will head to the polls to elect a new governor and a new mayor. Both gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Phil Murphy, former ambassador to Germany, and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno have expressed concerns about the state’s involvement in the city and said they would look to end it. The city was put under state oversight following years of financial mismanagement.
“I think that most people in Atlantic City and around the state are biding their time for the next six months,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, referring to the end of Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure.
In summer 2018, Hard Rock is expected to open its new property. Hard Rock International and investors Joe Jingoli and Jack Morris plan to spend $500 million renovating and rebranding the property. The Hard Rock project is expected to generate more than 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, according to the company.
“I think finally Atlantic City has hit bottom and is starting to go back up,” said Michael Busler, professor of finance at Stockton University. “We had a lot of private investment come into the city, but to lure more investment, the city’s financial issues have to be resolved.”
Then 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.
“It’s Atlantic City after all, so there is cautious optimism,” Harrison said, referring to the countless projects that were proposed but never built in the resort. “People’s hopes have been raised so many times over the years only to see it not happen. People are guarded.”
Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University, said residents should temper their expectations.
“There is no reason for Atlantic City to be cocky,” Hale said.
The city’s reliance on a single industry, casino gaming, has led to it seeing many boom-and-bust cycles over the years, Hale said.
“When times are great in Atlantic City, they are great; when they are bad they are horrible,” he said.
Despite the pending projects and their impact not being felt this year, Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said he is still optimistic about the summer.
“We expect growth, and we should be growing. I’m bullish about 2018,” Kelly said during Stockton University’s ninth annual Jersey Shorecast tourism panel in May. “You are going to add a thousand college students to the marketplace. I think in the theme of diversifying, the Gateway is a game-changer.”