What’s the surest sign that there’s good news in Atlantic City these days? Gov. Chris Christie made an appearance last week in the beleaguered resort, a place he has been avoiding lately.
There’s no sugarcoating the pain — economic, social, personal — in and around Atlantic City. The closing of five casinos since 2014, the loss of more than 20,000 casino jobs and the subsequent erosion of the city’s tax base have devastated the town. Atlantic County, which includes Atlantic City, has had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for the last three years.
But, to borrow a phrase, Atlantic City’s “death” has been greatly exaggerated, and signs of life in the resort’s economy are beginning to add up.
What was once a $5 billion a year casino industry is now a $2.5 billion industry. But, as Wasseem Boraie, who is building an $81 million, 250-unit apartment complex in the city, has pointed out, what mayor in the state wouldn’t want a $2.5 billion industry in town? The Borgata casino hotel alone generates more than $60 million a month in gambling revenue in the off season.
And last week, with Christie there to help trumpet the news, Hard Rock International unveiled its plans for the former Trump Taj Mahal casino, which former owner Carl Icahn closed Oct. 10. The sale to Hard Rock closed March 1 and, while no purchase price was announced, the company says it plans to spend $375 million on the purchase and planned renovations.
Meanwhile, next door at the Showboat, a closed casino that new owner Bart Blatstein is running as a hotel, plans were announced last week for a 150,000-square-foot entertainment facility aimed at millennials to be opened this summer. In a $32 million joint federal, state and local project, the Army Corps of Engineers is finishing up a new seawall and new section of boardwalk along Absecon Inlet. And, in a project with the most potential to transform Atlantic City, the nonprofit Atlantic City Development Corp., an offshoot of Chris Paladino’s highly successful New Brunswick Development Corp., is building a satellite campus of Stockton University, which is based 10 miles inland.
The $210 million Gateway project, to be completed in August 2018, will include an academic building, a parking garage, a new headquarters for South Jersey Gas and a dormitory right on the boardwalk for 500 students. Thanks to Paladino’s characteristic attention to detail, the dorm, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean, will include storage for surfboards.
Not as many people are betting in Atlantic City these days. But certainly, more and more people are betting on the resort.