ATLANTIC CITY — Visitors to the resort will be able to travel back to Atlantic City’s glory days and experience the sites and sounds of Club Harlem or witness a diving horse plunge into a pool of water if plans for a new museum in the city come to fruition.
The public heard for the first time some of the ideas for a proposed Atlantic City Experience museum and research center during a public forum Wednesday at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. The center would be dedicated to preserving the city’s history and multicultural heritage.
The museum — a project spearheaded by library employees — would also include exhibits, an event place for book signings and concerts, classroom space, a research center and a museum store, said Heather Halpin Perez, the library’s archivist.
No cost or timeline for the project has been determined.
Mills + Schnoering Architects has been hired to conduct a feasibility study for the project. The study will examine everything from the museum’s size to visitor demographics and potential competition.
“It takes a whole village to do this type of project,” said Michael J. Mills, partner in charge of Mills + Schnoering Architects. The firm’s credits include the redesign of the Alton Auditorium at Richard Stockton College.
No decision has been made on a location for the museum, Mills said.
Sites under consideration include the Absecon Lighthouse, inside Boardwalk Hall and Garden Pier, said Alison Baxter, a senior associate with Mills +Schnoering Architects.
Some of the museum’s centerpieces would be multimedia and interactive exhibits that will virtually transport visitors back to Club Harlem in the 1930s or the diving horse shows on Steel Pier.
Interest in building a museum and research center comes at a time when there is growing emphasis for offering more than gaming in the resort. A tourism promotion study done last year found that a very large percentage of travelers and tourists rate the arts and performing arts as particularly important when making travel decisions. This survey was conducted by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Richard Stockton College.
“More than 50 percent of the people who responded to the survey indicated that arts and cultural amenities are important when making travel decisions,” said Israel Posner, the institute’s executive director. Posner said the proposed museum would be a welcome addition to the city’s offerings
“Based upon our research, it’s something that is a very important opportunity,” Posner said.
Members of the city’s community also support the project.
The Atlantic City Historical Museum, located on Garden Pier, is temporarily closed for renovations.
“We are very supportive of what the library is doing. We are often in partnership with them in different exhibits, and we would love to see them really create a major space. Everyone who is interested in history would lend a hand,” said Vicki Gold Levi, co-founder of the historical museum, said Wednesday evening.
“I would personally love to see a really major space devoted to Atlantic City history,” Levi said. “Atlantic City has such great history, there is room for more than one space.”
About 60 people attended the meeting to share their ideas about what the museum should include, where it should be located and how it should operate.
Several members of the public mentioned that the museum should reflect the city’s history of cultural diversity.
Anthony Cox, who co-owns property on the corner of Kentucky and Arctic avenues — the historic hub of nightlife for African-American residents of the city — asked those assembled to consider a satellite building to the main museum where the city’s black history could be highlighted.
Jean Muchanic, the executive director of the Absecon Lighthouse, said her historic location is a two-acre site with a 10-foot fence making it a secure location for the museum. She felt putting the museum at a location where the lighthouse and Historic Gardner’s Basin already exist would boost the Inlet section of the city.
Tony Marino, a former Atlantic City resident living in Egg Harbor Township, suggested the museum feature a high-tech hologram that could explain how railroad service helped the city develop into a world-class resort.
Stellzene Roberts, of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s Special Improvement Division, said exhibits inside the museum should change every six months to keep it fresh. The museum should be open every day, and employ people who know about the city’s history, Roberts said. Exhibits could include some of the many things that people may not know about Atlantic City history, he said. For instance, Roberts said, the late big band leader Glenn Miller used to perform every weekend in the city.
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