ATLANTIC CITY — Planes, trains and automobiles all deliver tourists to the doorsteps of Atlantic City. Buses, too.
Strangely, what’s missing from a seaside resort named after the Atlantic Ocean are ships.
Searching for new ways to draw business to the tourist-dependent town, Mayor Don Guardian wants to transform Atlantic City into a port of call for cruise lines.
Guardian’s ambitions appear to be somewhat modest — not, well, titanic.
Atlantic City would cater to the smaller cruise lines, not the megaships that commonly ply the waters of the Caribbean carrying thousands of passengers at a time.
An engineering study has found that the city’s waterways are deep enough to accommodate cruise ships 200 feet long, Guardian noted.
“We’ll be looking at trying to get the federal government to help establish a port in Atlantic City,” he said.
The mayor described a possible channel for the ships in the northeastern tip of the city between the Golden Nugget Atlantic City casino hotel, the Brigantine Bridge and the U.S. Coast Guard Station.
Guardian divulged the cruise ship proposal during remarks before a European-American Chamber of Commerce luncheon June 12. Much of the luncheon focused on the possibility of attracting international charter flights from Europe to Atlantic City International Airport. Talks have started with European discount airlines Jet2.com and Ryanair about possibly flying to Atlantic City.
Guardian endorsed the idea of European charter flights, but he also raised hopes that Atlantic City could become a stopover for what he called the “regional lines and economy lines” that operate smaller cruise ships.
In its never-ending quest for more visitors, the city wants to expand its tourist attractions beyond the casino hotels. One anchor for new development could be Historic Gardner’s Basin, the maritime park tucked away in the city’s Northeast Inlet section overlooking Absecon Inlet. The park is a haven for local residents, but is detached from the popular tourist areas, such as the beaches, the Boardwalk and the casino zones.
Guardian told the European-American Chamber of Commerce that the city plans to seek formal proposals by the end of the year from private companies to develop 22 acres at Gardner’s Basin.
“That’s the amount of space you have at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor,” he said.
Cruise ships could enhance the redevelopment of Gardner’s Basin and help diversify the city’s tourist trade, the mayor said. Currently, the vast majority of Atlantic City’s nearly 27 million annual visitors arrive by car. Planes and trains contribute only small numbers of tourists. Casino bus passengers used to represent close to half of the annual visitors. However, bus traffic has plunged in recent years.
One casino executive believes cruise ships could help re-energize the city by giving a boost to midweek business, normally the slowest time for the gambling industry.
“I definitely think it’s a good idea,” said Tom Ballance, president of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. “I always thought we could attract more business if a cruise line ran out of Atlantic City.”
Ballance envisions cruise passengers staying at the casino hotels before embarking on their trips. They might stay a night or two after returning to Atlantic City from their cruises, he added.
The thought of 200-foot ships docking at Atlantic City is not all that far-fetched. The Frank S. Farley State Marina next to the Golden Nugget has handled some palatial yachts over the years. Donald Trump’s former 282-foot yacht, Trump Princess, used to spend summers in Atlantic City. More recently, Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta has moored his 164-foot yacht Boardwalk at the Farley marina.
Pointing to the Trump and Fertitta yachts as examples, one casino analyst characterized Guardian’s plan for smaller cruise ships as “very doable.”
“This might work,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “Some of the cruise lines are seeking access to the great coastlines of the East Coast.”
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