Atlantic City officials are hoping to continue a program to eliminate abandoned and eyesore properties.
Since the city changed its building code last year, it has razed 21 structures and prompted owners of eight others to fix up their rundown properties.
But addressing those 29 properties has cost the city more than $1.1 million of a $1.5 million demolition fund, leaving officials searching for cash to spend on 51 other problem properties.
The city now plans to ask the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority — the original source of the demolition fund — for more, said Anthony Cox, the city’s director of Licensing & Inspections.
Officials hope to continue their demolition pace, and are proud of what they’ve accomplished in the past year.
Many of the buildings taken down appeared consistently on the annual Top 10 list of the worst eyesores in the resort. Published by the city and based on resident surveys, the ranking was launched by Mayor Lorenzo Langford during his first term in 2004 to shame landlords into addressing blight.
But shame did not work.
Neither did the city’s program. For years, officials couldn’t come up with money to front demolition costs without any guarantee of recovering it from uncooperative property owners. If owners don’t pay, the city can issue a lien against the property at 18 percent interest. However, the city cannot force payment until the property changes hands.
To solve that problem, the CRDA set aside $500,000 for the South Inlet in October 2010 and $1 million for citywide blight in April 2011. The resort-based state agency assumed planning and development oversight of the Atlantic City Tourism District in February 2011. The new mission justified fighting blight, a significant step toward making the atmosphere in Atlantic City safer and more appealing.
That $1.5 million was key to getting visible results from stricter city codes enacted in October 2010, which let the municipality demolish buildings declared abandoned or hazardous for six months without action by owners.
Without more funding, city officials would be left to hope owners decide to fix or tear down the 51 buildings remaining on the city’s target list.
CRDA officials would not comment on the the status of the city’s demolition program, saying they would wait until there is a formal request for more money.
But there are signs the agency will not walk away from the program.
One clear sign is the Atlantic City Tourism District Master Plan, which suggests expanding city code to force property owners pay for even comparatively minor problems.
The plan describes a nuisance-properties “tax,” a penalty that would involve liens and foreclosures. The plan also recommends the definition of “nuisance” be re-examined and updated and that the CRDA and city establish an office to deal with nuisance properties.
That suggested procedure seems to mirror the process already in place, although rarely used by the city.
State law required the CRDA to create the Master Plan, but spokeswoman Kim Butler deferred to city officials on the nuisance properties.
City construction official Wally Shields was cautious about the master plan, saying, “I don’t know how much more you can do. You don’t want to step on someone’s rights.”
Demolition also risks stripping the character from a city.
CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said the agency wants to be considerate of the built environment.
“You need to focus on where there is some integrity of these older buildings,” he said.
Before starting at the CRDA in October, Palmieri’s career included overseeing urban redevelopment initiatives in Providence, R.I., and Boston. In those “historic cities,” preservation was “part of the deal,” he said.
“(Atlantic City) has a lot of broken teeth, so to speak,” Palmieri said. “But there are some wonderful structures. Whether or not they are on the historic register is not really significant. If you have a great building, that represents the history of the city, so you need to see what you can do to reuse it, to improve it, to preserve it.”
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