In a few months, The Wave parking garage will provide more than a space to leave a car.
Soon to be home to Atlantic City’s first art retail space complete with galleries, working studios and likely a coffee shop, the area located on the first floor of the parking garage will also serve as an anchor for a planned Arts District detailed in the Tourism District Master Plan released earlier this year, officials announced Tuesday.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority opened the $30 million parking garage in March. Officials initially discussed renting out the 16,000 square feet of space on the first floor to retail tenants, tying into the existing shops at Tanger Outlets The Walk. But those plans soon morphed into an alternate vision — one that leverages The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and its Noyes Museum of Art as a draw for attracting a strong arts presence in the city.
The space will house as many as 14 art studios, three galleries, a museum shop and possibly a cafe on Mississippi Avenue. Artists and exhibitors working out of the space will be recruited through Stockton, affording the public the chance to see artists working in a studio setting, as well as purchase artwork. Officials stressed that the project is not an experiment but rather the start of a long-term initiative intended to secure a lasting arts presence in the resort.
“This is tied historically to Atlantic City,” Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp Jr. said. “Atlantic City in (the) 1920s (and) 1930s until the casinos had a wonderful art program with jazz and music along Kentucky Avenue. It’s tied to the roots of Atlantic City, which also means it’s tied to the future of Atlantic City.”
Through an agreement finalized last week, the CRDA will lease the space to Stockton at no cost, although the agreement does provide some mechanisms for the CRDA to profit if Stockton subleases profitable studio and retail space, CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said.
Earlier this year, the CRDA agreed to finance the $2 million to fit out the space needed to accommodate the project. That process should take four or five months, and the space should be open by early summer, said Palmieri, who has had a hand in molding successful artistic communities in the past.
As head of various economic development groups in Providence, R.I., Palmieri was credited with creating that city’s nationally recognized arts and entertainment district.
That initiative differed from Atlantic City’s more fledging arts community as Providence is home to several colleges, including the Rhode Island School of Design, Palmieri has said. However, he stressed that the partnership with Stockton plants the seed for future expansion of an arts community.
“Atlantic City has a tremendous arts community, but it hasn’t yet been fully formed,” Palmieri said. “I’d like to think that this will create the energy behind other improvements. I hope we can create enough momentum to sustain this.”
The Tourism District Master Plan shows the Arts District in the city’s Ducktown section extending between Iowa and Missouri avenues from Pacific Avenue to the bay, although plans for an arts center in Ducktown predate the Tourism District, created by legislation in February 2011. CRDA plans to explore creating housing for artists and their families in the area, as well as creating additional studio and exhibit space and retail shops.
Signs of progress were already seen earlier this year when Dante Hall Theater for the Arts was reopened in April after nearly three years when Stockton executed an agreement with the Diocese of Camden to help run the recently renovated venue.
The hall, located on Mississippi Avenue near The Wave, served as the meeting place for Tuesday’s announcement. There, officials dipped their hands in paint, adding handprints to signs inviting the public to have a hand in the arts. The signs will be displayed in the windows of the garage during the renovations.
In recent months, those focused on promoting the city’s nongambling amenities have turned to the arts as a possible tourist draw even outside the planned Arts District. Last month, the Atlantic City Alliance unveiled the first two of five outdoor installations — one on the site of the former Sands Casino Hotel at Kentucky Avenue and the Boardwalk and the second on California Avenue and the Boardwalk — intended to transform vacant lots into works of art.
Among those already excited about the project is Ralph Hunter, curator and founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey. The museum, located in Buena Vista Township, is in discussions to have 1,000 square feet of space dedicated to African American art featuring artists throughout the region.
“It’s going to be a fantastic draw. People will have the opportunity to see Atlantic City reborn in terms of the arts. For so many years, the arts in Atlantic City have not been on the front boards,” Hunter said. “I think people are starting to look at Atlantic City in a totally different way.”
Noyes Museum Executive Director Michael Cagno acknowledged that the resort is hardly among the names thought of when people identify cities with a strong arts presence. But he said one exists that will only be made stronger by the new initiative.
“We have culture here in Atlantic City. This is a project that will bring people together and celebrate culture,” Cagno said.
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