In Atlantic City: pride, anger, worry as city teeters on edge

Thu Jan 28, 2016 2:17pm EST
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By Hilary Russ

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (Reuters) - Inside the dimly lit Moose Lodge 216 last September in Atlantic City, Frank D'Alonzo discussed a few of the ideas he has heard over the years to revitalize the cash-strapped New Jersey gambling hub.

A monorail. Water parks. And now a push to bring in more conventions and transform the casino-heavy town with a seedy image into a family-friendly destination.

"It would be great for them to diversify," said the long-time businessman. "The city has a lot to offer."

But the avid fisherman and former construction manager sounded resigned: the seaside resort he loves is "the smallest big city" with blight and crime that are "not good publicity," he said.

Brimming with promise but ground down by poverty, Atlantic City is trying to reinvent itself even as it teeters on the edge of fiscal ruin. Its perception as a seedy locale is just one of several hurdles.

The city has been devastated by the quick collapse of its one-time monopoly on East Coast casino gambling and could see its cash flow run dry by April. The ravaged local economy laid bare the city's bloated budget and over dependence on a single industry.

Now, even as local elected officials are faced with the potential of a state takeover, they hope some seeds they planted to clean up crime-ridden areas and diversify the economy could begin bearing fruit before long.

The city has added new recreation and entertainment venues from Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, for example. Stockton University, which is nearby and has about 8,600 students, unveiled plans to expand there, and the city played host to a summer of successful beach concerts.   Continued...

A man looks at the ocean through the windows of the Playground Pier, a luxury shopping mall, in Atlantic City, New Jersey January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton