Gary Hill, of Atlantic City, is involved in many organizations throughout the city and is co-founder of the Schultz-Hill Foundation, Miss’d America Pageant and Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association.
Q: You are a native of Reading, Pa. When did you relocate to Atlantic City, what brought you here, and what was your first impression of the city and region?
A: I think I came to Atlantic City about 1989. I was a teacher in Reading, Pa., and I decided to come down to the shore and hang out a little bit. I met my partner, John Schultz, and he was running the gay nightclub here in Atlantic City. And so then I decided to move here, getting away from education and coming into the marketing world; became a small business owner myself and worked in marketing, promotion, special events in our club business until we retired from that a number of years ago.
Q: How much has Atlantic City changed in the two decades since you moved here, and what do you think the city will look like in the next two decades?
A: I think there are a lot of changes in Atlantic City. I think, unfortunately, ... some of the neighborhoods that built the city have kind of deteriorated, and I would like to see that revitalization happen again, particularly like in the midtown area. When Pinnacle bought a lot of the surrounding area in the midtown area, people moved out — business moved out, people moved out. And I think we need to revitalize that, and hopefully in the future, with some of the great projects that I know the (Casino Reinvestment Development Authority) is involved in, the city is involved in, the state is involved in, we would get those neighborhoods back to us. There are some great things, of course, that have changed. We have the Revel (resort), which is just a beautiful place. Borgata. Wonderful things happening at Steel Pier. When I first came here, I thought Steel Pier was kind of shabby-looking. And now with the new owners, the Catanoso brothers, they are revitalizing a wonderful nongambling venue. The Walk (retail district) has grown here in our city. So we have all of these little positive things, but I would like to see the neighborhoods come back a little alive and, of course, be stronger.
Q: If you were suddenly put in position to guide Atlantic City through the next decade, how would you go about it? What moves would you make?
A: I think we need to continue the feeling and the great cooperation that we have with a lot of agencies, community leaders, the administrations of the city, the county and the state. That cooperation needs to continue for positive growth to happen. And one thing, economically and educationally, that can happen is bringing in a campus center into the middle of the city, into Atlantic City. So if it’s Stockton College or if it’s another university coming into the middle of the city, connecting the parts, for instance, the Walk with the center city to the Boardwalk. Having 4,000 to 5,000 students, young, diverse, new people giving it a whole new breath of life into the city would really be positive, not just because we are providing great education opportunities but we would also then provide economic opportunities because those students need living areas. They need to go get coffee, they need to go shopping, they need to be entertained, they need to go to an art gallery, they need to hear a concert. So if we bring in a campus into the middle of the city and really work to develop that the right way so that it’s safe and secure — and having all of the cooperation of all of the other agencies and the leaders in the community — I think would be a positive step and real growth for the future of Atlantic City.
Q: Are there too many brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City? Would that industry be healthier with a few less?
A: Absolutely not, in my opinion. More competition is good. We have competition outside of our area; obviously that is what has affected the Atlantic City market. But inside, internally, if a visitor or tourist, somebody living here, can have a different opportunity for a job at a new place or bring in new revenue from an outside source, I definitely think we need more buildings. More casinos is absolutely fine. And I know a lot of casino leaders feel the same way. Because, No. 1, it brings great jobs to our unions and our union members and to the outside person who wants a new beginning, a new start. It’s a great way to revitalize our own city economy, so definitely more building needs to take place. And I know a lot of the efforts by the governor and the CRDA, ACA keeps continuing to want to push that. And even the legislators, too, of course, with the Internet gaming and the small boutique hotels. I think the more buildings, the more cranes we can see in Atlantic City, the absolutely best it is for all.
Q: You and your partner, John Schultz, are best known for operating some of the city’s most successful gay clubs and venues. Has Atlantic City succeeded in marketing itself to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender visitors?
A: I think they are trying. A number of years ago, a very good friend of ours, Dennis Gomes, who passed away last year, decided to come up with the idea of attracting the gay market. He came to me and my partner for some advice because we were in the gay business, the nightclub business — we were retired at that time. We had many conversations with him (about) how would this work in Atlantic City and in general. He took it upon himself with the Resorts staff and team to put the first gay bar nightclub in, I think, any casino. And it is still there. It’s very successful under the new management of Resorts, and I think other properties can follow that formula, because the gay market is a very lucrative market. They have extra income to spend, they have a number of great, diverse members in their community — which is great for a property or for a city. I think they can really expand that market base as we look for diversity and other economic advantages.
Q: As head of the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association, are there business opportunities in Atlantic City that you see as unfulfilled and you would like to see someone pursue?
A: There are really two in particular. No. 1, I think it’s kind of a shame that we have this very successful HBO series, “Boardwalk Empire,” being filmed in New York when we are two hours south of New York. And I think if possibly some people in state government, or however that works, could maybe give some tax incentives or credits, give some help and assistance to the film industry ... I think it would really establish another minor industry in Atlantic City, because Atlantic City has so much to offer with beautiful properties, beautiful sceneries and beautiful stories like the Miss America story or the “Boardwalk Empire” story. So I think we could look at some tax incentives, tax credits for other industries, other than just gaming industry, of course, or various big business. I also think we need to have a business vehicle — it could be a business center or some type of organization that all of the parties work together to make it easier for new business, in particular, small business coming into the city. So they know — like a one-stop center for business. How do I get my mercantile (license)? What do I need to do to get my licensing? How do I do some marketing? So working with Chamber of Commerce, working with MBCA, working with CRDA, the (Atlantic City Alliance), putting all of those components under one vehicle or one headquarters, I really think would help small business come back into Atlantic City stronger.
Q: With the return of the Miss America pageant to Atlantic City, are there changes in the works for the Miss’d America pageant that you can tell us about?
A: Miss’d America never left Atlantic City, but we took a little hiatus and now it’s under the umbrella of (the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance) here in Atlantic City, and I know we will be following Miss America in her wonderful reign back to Atlantic City. I’m sure it’s going to be around the same time as Miss America, and it’s always an exciting thing. It’s a charitable event — we raise lots of money for charity — it’s a fun event, it’s a spoof, but it’s also a great way to kind of relax after the very hectic time of Miss America. And you know, maybe there might be a Miss’d America parade one day.
Q: Is Miss America’s return a good thing for Atlantic City, or is it a piece of the past that may not have a role in Atlantic City’s future?
A: Absolutely the best thing that could happen to Atlantic City. I know MBCA and our community just embraces it and welcomes them back to Atlantic City. First of all, this is where it was born, this is where it thrived and now it’s coming back as a rebirth to Atlantic City. I think it’s an absolute positive step and the right direction for the state of New Jersey, for the city and for the Miss America organization. We cannot support it stronger. I think it is an absolute plus for our city.
Q: What accomplishment since coming to Atlantic City are you most proud of?
A: (I’ve) been involved in many, many things, many charitable endeavors. I sit on 10 nonprofit boards, myself, right now, but I think the best thing is building good community relations with people — with casino leaders, with political leaders, with civic leaders, arts organizations, charitable organizations — building those relations, growing those relations, working together for a common good. I feel very strongly about that; relationship building is a very positive thing in my life — as well as, I guess, establishing 11 years ago our private arts foundation, which is the Schultz-Hill Foundation, which we have established and continues to grow.
Q: What projects are you now working on?
A: I’m working on a major project for the Schultz-Hill Foundation May 31 at Caesars casino. We are bringing the daughter of Dean Martin — the singer, iconic legend here in Atlantic City from the old 500 Club days of Atlantic City — bringing his daughter Deana Martin to do a special concert, benefit concert at Caesars. It’s called “Deana sings Dino.” She’ll be doing a tribute to her dad, the Rat Pack, the great songs of that era. It’s a benefit concert that I’m really very heavily involved in with the help of many great community leaders, great sponsors and, of course, Caesars Entertainment. So that is my main project for the foundation and also working on a scholarship foundation event in May as well, and that will be at Tropicana. Working with the lieutenant governor of New Jersey — she is coming as our keynote speaker. And we give about $30,000 in scholarships to area students and teachers.
Q: How do you see the legalization of Internet gambling affecting Atlantic City?
A: I think it will have a big effect on Atlantic City, and I’m really very, very proud that New Jersey is moving forward with that. I know it’s a very controversial issue. I personally think it’s a very positive thing for Atlantic City. Again, anything that is going to bring new jobs, more revenue, a better economic status for our city is good. And Internet gaming can do that as long as, hopefully, it stays in just Atlantic City. This is where it belongs. This is the gambling capital of New Jersey, so it should stay here.
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