Fast forward to 2007. After 30 years of a “gambling only” diet that ignored “healthy” business opportunities, overdoses of poor city management, generic economic aches and pains, and Trump-like charlatans coming and going at their Chapter 11 whims, the old gal fell into a decade of abandonment, decay, and financial hardship culminating in multiple casinos/hotels shutting their doors including four in 2014 alone—bang, bang, bang, bang!
As a result, depression set in big time for local businesses and residents. However, as you walk the Atlantic City Boardwalk today you can feel something—a tingling sensation that, “We are going to be okay again.” And, you literally can see it being built, redesigned, and reinvented—diversified businesses drawing all sorts of people to Atlantic City’s beaches and Boardwalk, not just gamblers.
What was supposed to be Atlantic City’s newest and classiest casino, Revel opened and then closed its $2.4 billion troubled doors all in 2014. Although quickly snatched up for a mere $92 million by billionaire developer, Glen Straub, it never got off the ground for a plethora of reasons ranging from red-tape to dollars and cents.
In January 2018, the sleek 60-story glass building sold and re-branded itself as the Ocean Resort Casino. No sooner was that transaction signed, when Ocean Resort partnered with Hyatt—ensuring that the tallest building in Atlantic City landed in experienced, hotel management hands. By May 2018, the Ocean Resort had already hired 3,000 employees for its June opening—an upbeat employment trend Atlantic City desperately needed.
And, speaking of partnerships, having big name investors like Mark Wahlberg can’t hurt. The actor/producer plans to be a visible presence by opening a bar as well as one of his family-named burger joints in Ocean Resort. Also, don’t be surprised to see episodes for the Wahlburgers reality show filmed in AC as well.
Ocean Resort offers amenities for everyone, from five pools (including a salt water option) to a kid-friendly candy store. Depending on your definition of a sweet tooth (and your age), other attractions include the pulsating HQ nightclub and the risqué burlesque-style Royal Jelly show. And par for the course (pun intended), Ocean Resort touts its Topgolf Swing Suite® offering 11 bays and a virtual putting green in the sky with food and beverage services as well as stunning views of the Atlantic.
A few blocks south of the Ocean Resort, similar signs of life can be heard and seen at the former Trump Taj Mahal casino. Starting with the well-televised removal of the Trump sign, Taj exits stage left and Hard Rock enters the Atlantic City gaming and entertainment stage. A $500 million gut and redesign is currently underway—once again revitalizing Atlantic City.
As you would expect from any Hard Rock enterprise, beautiful sounds will emanate from that building—literally and figuratively. In June, the rock ‘n’ roll themed property opened with powerful headliner, Carrie Underwood—country music diva. With their impressive 7,000-person seating capacity, Hard Rock’s 2018 lineup touts hundreds of weekend and weekday acts including Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Gin Blossoms, Steely Dan, as well as Jersey grown Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. (Editor’s Note: We sat down with the developers and the head of Hard Rock International for an exclusive interview. See page 56.)
Luckily, Hard Rock is not the only game in town that figured out Atlantic City needs to entertain—lots of people, lots of options, and for all ages. One block away, the 2,400 seat Bourbon Room (formerly House of Blues) located in the boutique Showboat Hotel (formerly Showboat Casino), exemplifies part of AC’s entertainment rejuvenation.
The venue, named after the famous street in New Orleans, opened its doors in late March with funky, edgy, millennial-attracting acts like Dead Reckoning, Unusual Suspects, professional wrestling, and silent discos—all adding to nightlife options for Atlantic City visitors other than throwing dice or feeding slot machines.
Other upcoming Atlantic City concerts rival Las Vegas big name acts. For example, Borgata plans to mark its 15th anniversary in Atlantic City this year with superstars including Cher, Barry Manilow, and Stevie Wonder. Boardwalk Hall, iconic home of the Miss America Pageant, offers events ranging from Evander Holyfield’s The Real Deal Boxing to rockers Fleetwood Mac and Rod Stewart.
As part of a Live Nation and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) partnership geared to attracting tourists inside and outside casino walls, three Atlantic City Beach Fest concerts are scheduled again featuring Sam Hunt, The Chain Smokers, and Demi Lovato. Concert goers and headliners alike are stoked about the upcoming beach performances. Lovato recently tweeted, “Since this is my only East Coast show of the summer, I wanted to do something a little different. And nothing screams summer more than the BEACH! This is going to be such a fun show, and I can’t wait to see all my fans in Atlantic City for a party by the ocean!”
As the entertainment rejuvenation bug spreads through AC, even neighboring towns feel the fever. For example, a long-time abandoned movie theater in Ventnor destined for demolition was recently purchased. The developer plans to give the old building a state-of-the art makeover transforming the decaying property into the Ventnor Square Theater—a “boutique theater” opening in 2019 offering dining, “adult beverages,” as well as three-screen movie options.
North Jersey-based Boraie Development, LLC joined the revival effort with its 600 North Beach project, an $85 million residential complex currently underway in the Inlet area—abandoned beach-front lots desperately needing mouth-to-mouth financial resuscitation.
According to Atlantic City Council President, Marty Small, projects like 600 North Beach clearly indicate “…the worst days of Atlantic City are over. The storm is over.”
Located on New Jersey and Pacific Avenues, neighbor to the Ocean Resort, the 250-luxury units will surround an inner courtyard featuring a raised pool and community area. First occupancy is slated for August 2018 with an eye on being fully occupied by end of year.
Two miles down the road (and Boardwalk) signs of revitalization on steroids can be seen on Albany and Pacific Avenues. Where once several empty lots wasted away for too many years, the $210 million Atlantic City Gateway Project is well underway—a redevelopment initiative featuring a Stockton University campus/dorm and a South Jersey Gas Company headquarters housing over 200 employees.
The structures are not quite completed, but Stockton University has already filled most of their beach front campus for the 2018 Fall semester. In addition to dorm rooms for 500 students, the new campus provides 56,000 square foot academic space, class rooms, labs, and retail business options on the street level. Curriculum will include hospitality & tourism—actual subject matter that students can study/participate in proximity to the campus.
Monopoly mavens will tell you that orange streets like Tennessee Avenue are the best properties to own. Evan Sanchez and Zenith Shah, founders of Authentic City Partners, know how to figuratively roll the dice on the Atlantic City gameboard. The two entrepreneurs, who believe in cultural diversity and community growth, envision a drastic redo for the distressed Tennessee Avenue—from the Boardwalk down to Pacific Avenue.
Living true to their company name, Sanchez and Shah promote business partnering, not just dollars and cents. The co-founders see the Tennessee Avenue project as a vehicle that will methodically create a better city. Sanchez explains, “We’re focused on bringing one beach block back to life by fostering community and small businesses. By doing it on one block, we’ll show it can be done and ultimately done at scale throughout Atlantic City.”
Plans are in the works to attract businesses on both sides of the neglected street. To date, the project kickstarted with The Leadership Yoga Studio, a not-for-profit organization bringing yoga and good practices to all in the community, and the first yoga studio in Atlantic City!
In April, MADE Atlantic City Chocolate Bar opened its tasty doors offering chocolate and wine lovers a chance to dazzle their pallets with tastings, wine pairings, and even chocolate making classes. Driven by love and passion, chocolatiers Mark and Deborah Pellegrino use cacao beans from around the world to create unique chocolates right in their hometown.
Mark Pellegrino enthusiastically looks forward to contributing to the Tennessee Avenue revival, “We want people to get back to enjoying community and local places that are small and MADE right there. You know what you are getting and where it came from. And you can watch it in front of you. What’s cooler than that?”
Additional businesses slated for the block include a coffee shop, beer hall, and more. Whether it’s something soothing for your palette or your mind and body, Tennessee Avenue aims to attract and please tourists and locals alike. Shah sums up the vision: “We want Atlantic City to be a world class city again. We hope that Tennessee Avenue will serve as inspiration for other entrepreneurs and proof that if you build it, they will come. For us, it’s just the start.”
From luxury residential apartments to a college campus, Atlantic City’s skyline and its raison d’être change by the millisecond. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, AC lives again. OK, it’s a bit melodramatic but it’s true. Looks like with a little bit of determination and lots of dollars, the old gal is rocking and rolling—yet again.