Building a permanent outdoor stage in Atlantic City to drive visitation was among the ideas discussed at Stockton College's annual summer tourism forecasting panel.

Delivering the keynote address Friday, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian told the group of regional tourism representatives that the city and region could benefit from having a defined home for outdoor events.

He referenced the Atlantic City Alliance's recent announcement that Blake Shelton will play a free beach concert in July, followed three days later by another show headlined by an artist who has yet to be announced. Guardian, who said he's recently met with several concert promoters, pointed out that to make better use of the cost associated with constructing an outdoor stage, multiple events must take place.

"Let's take a look at what happens this summer," Guardian said. "Maybe we should be in the business of building a permanent stage on one of our piers, instead of getting all excited about one or two events."

Friday's event, known as the Jersey Shorecast, was sponsored by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Panelists from Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties, all predicted business will be strong this summer as the South Jersey shore continues to rebound from both the effects and the perceptions that followed Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

Lori Pepenella, director of destination marketing at the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said last year potential visitors wanted to know if the if the area was ready for tourists following the storm. This year, that's not the case.

"We have twice as many inquiries as we did in spring 2013, and very rarely are they asking are we open," Pepenella said. "They're asking about events."

Diane Wieland, director of the Cape May County Department of Tourism, said the county's lodging industry generated $2.24 billion last year, and retail generated $1.1 billion last year, but the county still expects increases.

"The recession is over, or at least we're feeling better about it," Wieland said.

Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, said she would like to see more packaging and cooperation among the South Jersey shore towns, noting that people will stay longer if they explore things to do across the region. She commended Guardian's plans for improvements in Atlantic City, saying that they will benefit tourism across the region.

Among the projects Guardian touted is the repaving of Pacific Avenue. Work on the sidewalks is expected to commence this month with the bulk of paving work beginning in September. The city has also been designated by the Board of Public Utilities for new LED lighting, replacing lights at 8,700 locations throughout the city. The new lighting is expected to save the city $820,000 annually.

Meanwhile on Friday, public mention was made of Stockton's continued push for an academic campus in Atlantic City. Stockton already operates Dante Hall theater and the Carnegie Center in Atlantic City, but has been pursuing the possibility of adding an Atlantic City campus since 2005.

Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. said that this is the first time in 11 years that he has been optimistic about rejuvenation in Atlantic City due to the new city administration.

"I've designed five campuses in Atlantic City, and I've been sort of dismissed on each of them," Saatkamp said. "Now I think we have a chance."

Guardian stressed his commitment to bringing the college to the city.

"If we don't get Stockton College this year, it's on my shoulders," Guardian said.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

609-272-7239

Follow Jennifer Bogdan on Twitter @ACPressJennifer