Christie’s Atlantic City Bet Begins to Pay Off [AUDIO]
Three years ago, Governor Chris Christie made improving the struggling Atlantic City Tourism District a priority, but is the investment paying off this summer?
John Palmieri, Executive Director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), certainly believes they're on the right track. He says they were first charged by the Governor with making the district clean and safe, and he thinks they've accomplished that.
"We have 75 Ambassadors that are working full-time through the seasonal months, we have Class-2 Police Officers deployed to the boardwalk, we've got $10 million dollars in new lighting," Palmieri said.
However, with pressure from competing casinos in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, Palmieri says Atlantic City needed a way to distinguish itself as a national tourist destination.
He says they've been doing that by constantly adding new events and through the construction of non-gaming venues, such as Margaritaville, Bass Pro Shops and Harrah's new Conference Center.
Atlantic City is also preparing of the return of the Miss America Pageant this September with 13 days of events and a "Show Us Your Shoes Parade" on the boardwalk.
"So we have some good and important non-gaming amenities," Palmieri explained. "We have lots of new events from the air show to parades, arts-related events and improved programming for those who come to visit, but the 'clean and safe' piece has been kind of the threshold and most important requirement to make people know that when they come here they're going to feel comfortable."
While Palmieri says he believes they've done a good in achieving the low-hanging fruit, there are some challenges ahead in making Atlantic City a premier destination. He says they still need to attract large private sector developers to invest in vacant city properties.
"We have a lot of vacant land, we keep our land clean and safe, but we'd like to see some in-filled development," Palmieri said. "So that's going to mean that some of the larger Philly-based and New York-based development groups see the opportunity here within the South Inlet District, for instance."
Another challenge faced by CRDA is the relationship it has with Mayor Lorenzo Langford. Palmieri suggested that the relationship with Langford remains a work in progress.
"The city supplies the police protection. The city is responsible for code enforcement and building and permitting and so, we need the Mayor to pay more attention to make the destination more attractive."
He says, though, that the city has been very aggressive in making improvements to the boardwalk in advance of the Miss America parade.
According to State Treasury figures, efforts to draw more non-gaming dollars appear to be working. A recent Associated Press story shows luxury tax revenues were up 12 percent in 2012 to $35.5 million dollars. The article also says the revenue was also up in three of the first four months of this year.