Madonna and Metallica confirm summer concerts in Atlantic City. Revel announces its megaresort will open — putting much of its 5,000-person staff to work — on April 2.
And tourism officials report increased trips, convention attendance and spending by delegates, despite fewer weekend days and conventions scheduled.
All this good news in one week?
While casino win figures released Friday were not positive, Atlantic City’s overall economy is on the brink of a turnaround likely to result in an investment stampede, predicted Israel Posner, executive director of Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
“It’s the idea that we’ve been discussing for many years, that Atlantic City is transforming into a full-scale entertainment resort,” Posner said. “That transformation, that vision, is emerging in full bloom. You can see it this summer. You can feel the energy all over the city.
“It’s really a matter of the type of transformation that Las Vegas scripted over the last five years,” he said. “You saw it happen on the Strip. I think you’re seeing the same transformation in Atlantic City, where there is a critical mass of accessible, world-class entertainment.”
Posner also said that investors who have been shunning the city for the past few years now will be tempted to take a second look. He cautioned that they could lose out if they wait too long.
“I think that what could happen very quickly is that investors will be tripping over each other,” he said. “If you’re late, the opportunities are not there. The early participants that are drawn by the excitement have the most to gain because they are coming in during the threshold of the transformation. If you wait, the risk will be lower, but the reward will be lower, too.”
Revel re-energizes the market
The April 2 opening of the $2.4 billion Revel megaresort, the city’s first new casino in nine years, is expected to rejuvenate a gaming industry now mired in a five-year revenue slump.
“All the stars are aligning for this to be a very good summer,” said Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. “The opening of Revel should really energize the market and the top-name entertainment should be a great draw and show people that Atlantic City has a lot to offer in addition to casinos.”
Revel plans an eight-week preview leading up to the casino hotel’s grand opening celebration Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the tourist season.
Kevin DeSanctis, Revel’s chief executive officer, promised some top entertainment acts will perform at the grand opening, although names will be announced later. Revel will have a 5,500-seat concert hall to bolster the city’s entertainment scene this summer.
“Based on what I’m seeing, I think this should be a very good summer for the city,” DeSanctis said. “There will be no lack of things for people to do, some very exciting things to do.”
However, attempts by the gaming industry to gain some forward momentum sputtered in January, when revenue from slot machines and table games fell 7 percent, to $236.9 million. That dashed hopes for a sustained rally that began in December, when casino winnings rose 4 percent, the first time in 40 months the industry had seen a revenue increase.
Although relatively warm January weather didn’t boost casino business, analysts from Spectrum Gaming said the unusually high temperatures helped improve visitor draw for the month. Indicators included a 7.6 percent increase in traffic through the Pleasantville toll plaza just outside the resort on the Atlantic City Expressway compared to January 2011, which had an additional weekend day. Convention attendance went up 2 percent and delegate spending by 11 percent, despite four fewer conventions and trade shows taking place, according to numbers released Friday by the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.
Concerts on the rise
Concert promoters doing business in Atlantic City think they’ll capitalize on what’s expected to be a record-setting year for the live entertainment industry. That prediction is based on continued economic recovery and the blockbuster slate of touring acts that includes Radiohead, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, The Rolling Stones, Adele, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Fleetwood Mac and The Beach Boys-Brian Wilson reunion tours.
“The stars seemed to be aligned ... Madonna just being one of them,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of the concert-industry tracking magazine Pollstar.
Revel’s opening and the continued growth of the resort’s event calendar further those circumstances, some event organizers say.
“(Atlantic City) is starting to compete with the Philadelphias of the world with their big festivals. ... People are going to view Atlantic City as a destination (for) good music,” said Bill Ingram, president of Platinum Productions in Philadelphia.
Bader Field’s continued use as a concert venue is key to that. The 142-acre former municipal airport provides the open space ideal for festival settings and is home to Sandcastle Stadium, a 5,000-seat outdoor arena that hosted a hip-hop show last summer after needed renovations were partially completed. That means Atlantic City has become an arena for events that might not have previously come to the resort.
Ingram is among concert promoters who are so optimistic about Atlantic City they’re returning despite past difficulties here. His all-star, hip-hop show last month at Boardwalk Hall sold 7,300 tickets — 500 more than expected.
He expects the success to continue, and extended his two-day Mothers’ Day Music Festival by three days. He also reserved the hall for a two-day comedy festival that will return in September, plus another date in October for a fourth show.
“When a new venue opens up, like Revel, people tend to come down there, and try it out. So, I’m hoping the enthusiasm about the Shore is back for this period,” Ingram said.
Anticipating a ripple effect, AMPM Entertainment President Vito Bruno expanded his lineup here this year. So far, his Disco Ball and Freestyle dance shows are slated to return to the Mark G. Etess Arena at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort. And he’s considering adding an old-school hip-hop show and a 1980s concert at an undetermined venue.
“When the Borgata opened, I remember the city picked up for a minute. Hopefully, this will do the same,” said Bruno.
Tourism and economic development officials are hoping for more than a temporary uptick from the events. They want a snowball effect.
“I’d call it an accelerant in a way,” said Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director John Palmieri. “We create more activity, people feel safe and enjoy themselves, they purchase goods, go to restaurants, demand improves, and those things build on themselves. It might not be a big, $50 million residential project, but (it creates) a more attractive environment for the investment community to assess.”
The Atlantic City Tourism District Master Plan, approved by the CRDA Board Feb. 1, advised that Atlantic City diversify offerings and perhaps partner with other towns on artistic, cultural and other nongaming initiatives. The marketing strategies behind the events themselves matter, too, particularly with social media, the 300-page document stated.
Master plan consultants also suggested hiring an event management company to handle coordination citywide. They used Virginia Beach as an example of how the third-party event coordinator system can work in a resort town. Palmieri expects to bring someone on board in six months or so.
The Tourism District Master Plan focuses on the Boardwalk, suggesting entertainers be added to enliven existing dead zones, said Liza Cartmell, president of Atlantic City Alliance, the marketing nonprofit funded and steered by the local gaming industry.
“Free entertainment — that’s a very important part of it,” Cartmell said. “So is ensuring (people) want to come back with more frequency.”
But as the crowds grow, so does the pressure to provide a clean, safe, attractive, accessible environment. Palmieri said that will be critical to bringing people back and enticing investors.
That means getting surveillance, communications and other improvements online to put city police and other law enforcement agencies in a better position to provide a safe environment. City and CRDA officials need to continue partnering on their citywide demolition and road improvement programs as well, Palmieri said.
“Everyone is excited and understands we’re in it together, and need to work as a team,” Palmieri said.“That’s a positive thing. And from what I understand, that’s a new thing for this city.”
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