ATLANTIC CITY — Friendly, exciting, picturesque ... even larger than life — but still a city that is misunderstood and in need of more tourist dollars.
Speaker after speaker described Atlantic City in those terms Thursday night during a community forum that was part lovefest, part strategy session as plans evolve for a $30 million marketing and promotional campaign to lure tourists.
The idea is to recapture the town’s glory days as the “Queen of Resorts” and “America’s Favorite Playground,” speakers stressed to the Atlantic City Alliance, the casino-funded marketing coalition that is developing the publicity blitz.
“We’ve got the casinos here. It’s still not great. We want it grand,” said Alma Johnson of her desire to make the city even better.
Johnson, 69, who lives on Arkansas Avenue in the Venice Park section, maintained that any promotional campaign should focus on the ocean and the beaches, the city’s natural wonders. She also said she wants to see more family-friendly attractions added to the Boardwalk to broaden the city’s appeal to visitors.
Another longtime resident, William Cheatham, 82, of Maryland Avenue, spoke of the need to create a safer environment in the entire city, not just the newly created Tourism District.
“I’ve always believed that the whole city is a tourism district,” he said.
The Atlantic City Alliance sought the community’s input as it prepares to craft the marketing campaign. New York advertising giant Euro RSCG has been hired by the alliance to develop a multimedia publicity push that will be rolled out this spring.
The alliance plans to incorporate videotaped testimonials from the community forum in the marketing campaign. Cameras were rolling as speakers talked of their affection for the city and offered suggestions for polishing its image.
“This is the first time that Atlantic City can play, really, on a national stage,” Liza Cartmell, the alliance’s chief executive officer, told the audience.
More than 200 people packed the ballroom of the Chelsea Hotel for the town hall-style forum, moderated by Atlantic City resident and former Philadelphia TV personality Tom Lamaine.
Atlantic City is trying to recover from a five-year tourism slump caused by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states, particularly Pennsylvania.
Lamaine dismissed the competition, claiming the rival gaming halls elsewhere offer little in comparison to the resort-style casinos in Atlantic City.
“Those casinos — I use the analogy: They’re the Wawas, we’re the supermarkets,” Lamaine said.
In another shot of hyperbole, Dave Pena, an Atlantic City nightclub owner, called the city “larger than life.”
One theme that emerged repeatedly was the need for residents, the business community and all levels of government to work cooperatively, putting aside any differences in the past.
“If this is going to work, we all need to be involved, we all need to be engaged and we all need to be pulling in the same direction,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and a former Atlantic City mayor.
Adeo Santori, 84, who was born and raised in Atlantic City but now lives in Margate, recalled how the convention business was once a major element of the tourist trade. He said any marketing campaign should target conventions and corporate meetings.
“Conventioneers in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s were the lifeblood of Atlantic City,” Santori said. “Conventioneers are the ones who bring the business here to our community.”
Recalling his days growing up in Atlantic City, Michael Epps spoke fondly of how much pride people took in their neighborhoods. He said any efforts to market the city to visitors should reinforce the town’s friendliness and old-fashioned community pride.
Epps, who now lives in Galloway Township, formerly served as a commissioner on the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. Fearing it would unfairly tarnish the city’s image, Epps said he once refused to use remarks prepared for him by a commission speechwriter that described Atlantic City in the 1970s as “a slum with a seaside view.”
Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica, owner of Formica Brothers Bakery, founded in 1919 and one of the city’s best-known businesses, described Atlantic City as “the playground of the world” and “the greatest seaside resort in America.” He said those themes should be emphasized in the marketing campaign.
One aspect of the marketing campaign will consider whether to keep the current tourism slogan — “Atlantic City: Always Turned On.” Atlantic City’s rise as more of an adults-only casino gambling haven prompted the edgy “Always Turned On” label. It replaced the stodgier and more generic “America’s Favorite Playground” slogan in 2004.
Dr. Jon Fox, a third-generation Atlantic City native who now lives in Linwood, believes it is time for a new marketing slogan to pump up the tourism scene. He wants to dump “Always Turned On” and replace it with “Atlantic City: The World’s Playground ... Again!” or “AC: What happens here ... gets shared.”
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