ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—(SBN)—Atlantic City’s fortunes over the past several decades has seemed like a “roller coaster,” but Mayor Donald Guardian is convinced that “the stars are aligning for Atlantic City.”
Speaking exclusively to StateBroadcastNews.com’s news director Steve Lubetkin, after his appearance on a panel sponsored by the Philadelphia district of the Urban Land Institute, Mayor Guardian described several positive developments over recent weeks that he believes will help counter the negative perception of Atlantic City’s prospects due to financial troubles caused by several recent casino closings and bankruptcies. Lubetkin was reporting for GlobeSt.com at the conference.
(See an exclusive video report with more comments from the mayor at the end of this news story.)
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“Prices are right, meaning it’s really cheap to buy property and buy buildings,” Guardian says. “New Jersey Grow is now open to Atlantic City. You have a city government that is bullish on new growth, new businesses coming to Atlantic City, and backing that up with help when you’re building, and specialty tax rates.”
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey’s new presence is also helping the city, the mayor noted. The school recently acquired the Showboat Casino and plans to reopen it as a hotel and conference venue, while also providing housing for some 400 students at the South Jersey school.
Mayor Guardian also pointed to the US Department of Labor emergency job training grant announced Tuesday for Atlantic City by Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez. The $29 million grant will help provide job training for unemployed casino workers.
The ULI program presented a panel conversation, “Strategies for a World-Class Resort City,” about the organization’s research project into development alternatives for Atlantic City. The research effort, which took place last year, was chaired by ULI senior fellow Thomas Murphy, former mayor of Pittsburgh, PA. Eight to 10 members of ULI volunteered their time to look at several areas of Atlantic City for potential development.
“We made a series of recommendations,” Murphy tells GlobeSt.com exclusively. “We talked about beginning to think and act as if Atlantic City is like any other community rather than like a city with a lot of casinos. How do you diversify your economy and how do you build a residential community?”
About 85 percent of the people who work in Atlantic City don’t live there, Murphy says, pointing out that this speaks to the opportunity to encourage such people to consider the city as a potential residence.
“At the end of the day, it’s always about leadership and vision,” says Murphy. “I think Atlantic City was plagued with leadership that was not aligned, and maybe there was not vision. People said, ‘we have casinos, what more do we need?’”
People in Atlantic City have started having the difficult conversations about what comes after being a single industry town, says Murphy, who faced the same challenge as mayor when Pittsburgh was transitioning from being the heart of the US steel industry.
“The biggest issue when you’re dealing with redevelopment is getting people to believe that things will change,” says Collingswood Mayor James Maley, a real estate attorney whose own town is experiencing an urban renaissance anchored by high-end multifamily properties like the Lumber Yard and a restaurant-oriented main street.
Other panelists at the ULI event were: Wasseem Boraie, managing member, South Inlet Partners Urban Renewal, developing the new Boraie residential complex; Victor Nappen, chair, Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce; John Palmieri, executive director, New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority; and Dr. Herman J. Saatkamp Jr., president of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
“We’re not dead,” Mayor Guardian insists with a smile. “We’re still a cash cow for the state of New Jersey. We’re just wounded and we need a little help right now, but we’re going to bounce back, and it’s going to be good for the city, it’s going to be good for South Jersey, it’s going to be good for all the residents of New Jersey.”
Watch a StateBroadcastNews.com video report with more comments from Mayors Murphy, Maley, and Guardian in the player below.