Atlantic County officials plan to revamp the mission of the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, saying the organization has been underutilized and could be a major leader in development projects both across the county and Atlantic City.
Since its inception, the authority has had broad-reaching powers and has played a role in the development of projects such as the Atlantic City Expressway and the Atlantic City Convention Center. More recently, however, the authority has primarily acted as a conduit for advancing government funding rather than a lead agency on improvement projects.
That could change, however, said county officials who met for several hours Friday to outline a plan to strengthen the agency and better position it to spur growth.
Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said he came up with the idea that was not initially accepted but has recently gained traction. To date, he said, he’s been frustrated by what he calls a lack of progress despite the state’s involvement in the Atlantic City Tourism District since 2011.
The improvement authority could be an effective tool for additional growth, particularly because the county has more than $820 million in low-risk bonding capability, he said, noting that a well-run authority could potentially earn the county money through administrative project fees.
“ACIA had been the lead development authority in our area forever. ... The structure and the authority of the legislation that created the authority is still there, and I believe we can build upon that,” Formica said.
No resolutions would have to be passed or law changed for the authority to ramp up its presence. County Executive Dennis Levinson said the county needs permission from no one to move forward with its plans, but it is seeking the support of other elected officials, including state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who he said recently met with the county about its plans.
The authority has the power to negotiate redevelopment agreements, extend credit to borrowers, acquire property and install infrastructure, among other capabilities.
However, a strongly run operation may call for additional staff of consultants, officials said.
“We’re in a depressed area. We’ve got problems with blight. People have to be frustrated with the fact that every time the lists of worst eyesores in Atlantic City come out, the same buildings are on there,” Levinson said. “We believe we can generate ratables, create jobs both temporary and permanent, help to prevent blight and reduce dependence on gaming.”
Officials stressed that the role of the improvement authority, headed by John Lamey, would be to aid in the development of projects across the county but noted that Atlantic City remains one of the biggest challenges. The city, however, has other development agencies working toward the same goal, particularly the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which controls the Tourism District.
Formica said the improvement authority would work cooperatively with the CRDA and the city.
“This is not a political move under any circumstances. It’s not intended to be disparaging to the other organizations,” Levinson said. “This is a bipartisan move that would hope to generate the revival of the resort. If Trenton decides that this is not the way that we should be going, they can give us their feedback.”
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