PHILADELPHIA — Atlantic City will crank up the publicity machine to lure tourists back to a resort town that suffered far less hurricane damage than many other shore communities but was harmed by false news reports that the famed Boardwalk was swept away.
A delegation of Atlantic City tourism and development officials, in a luncheon meeting Wednesday with members of the Philadelphia media, acknowledged that much work still needs to be done to help the economy recover after Hurricane Sandy.
On one front, the casino-funded Atlantic City Alliance marketing coalition will push ahead with its widely publicized “Do AC” advertising campaign to tap visitors from throughout the Northeast. The campaign promotes the theme, “Do Anything. Do Everything. Do AC.”
Complementing the publicity efforts, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority plans to invest more of its money in the Tourism District to make the city safer and cleaner for visitors, officials said.
“We believe things are happening that we can take advantage of for a new day in Atlantic City,” said John Palmieri, the CRDA’s executive director.
Palmieri and alliance President Liza Cartmell outlined broad steps ahead to revive the city’s economy as well as repair “reputational damage” caused by erroneous news reports that the Boardwalk had been destroyed by Sandy.
“The iconic and oceanfront Boardwalk was not destroyed,” Palmieri told reporters during the luncheon.
The main part of the Boardwalk was unscathed, but some national TV news outlets gave the impression that the popular promenade was destroyed. They showed footage of an old, deteriorated section of the Boardwalk, outside the main tourist areas, that was damaged by previous storms and was already condemned.
Recalling what she described as exaggerated national hurricane coverage, Cartmell criticized one CNN reporter as “the idiot standing in the middle of the road” amid Sandy’s fury.
Cartmell and Palmieri are now hoping for favorable follow-up news coverage that shows Atlantic City “is open for business.”
Wednesday’s media luncheon at the Comcast Center will be followed Friday by a news briefing during the New York Times Travel Show. The Press of Atlantic City was the only Atlantic City-area news outlet at the Philadelphia briefing.
National polls conducted in November and January for the alliance illustrate that misperceptions continue about the extent of the city’s hurricane damage. In November, 41 percent of the people surveyed nationwide and 52 percent who live in the Northeast mistakenly thought that the Boardwalk had been destroyed. A follow-up poll in January found some improvement, with 25 percent of the people nationwide and 32 percent in the Northeast still believing the Boardwalk had been washed away.
“That means the job’s still not done and there’s still more work to do,” alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino said of post-Sandy efforts to attract tourists.
Much of the city’s tourist-oriented marketing and publicity campaigns will be funded by the alliance, a private, nonprofit organization that receives $30 million annually from the Atlantic City casinos.
“Our Boardwalk still standing strong. Our city still standing tall,” is one of the central themes of the alliance’s “Do AC” ad campaign.
The alliance has partnered with the CRDA, a government agency that uses funding from the casinos for housing and economic development projects in Atlantic City. The CRDA also oversees the city’s Tourism District, which includes the casinos, the Boardwalk and shopping attractions.
One new project jointly funded by the alliance and the CRDA is a $2 million public art installation that will debut over Memorial Day weekend on a now-empty lot next to Boardwalk Hall. It will complement two other public art projects financed last year by the alliance and the CRDA.
Palmieri said the CRDA will also continue with a citywide demolition program to remove derelict buildings. He said the CRDA will spend about $1 million this year to tear down 40 to 50 deteriorated sites.
Palmieri stressed that the CRDA has established a good but “not a great relationship” with city officials to remove blight and provide police protection. The state-run Tourism District was created to make the city safer and more appealing to visitors.
“We’re not there yet. We’re moving in the right direction,” Palmieri said of efforts to clean up the city’s appearance and image.
At the same time, Palmieri said he is encouraged by previously announced attractions coming to Atlantic City, giving tourists even more things to do besides casino gambling. They include a $35 million Margaritaville-themed restaurant, bar and casino project at Resorts Casino Hotel, a $134 million conference center at Harrah’s Resort and a new Bass Pro Shops as part of The Walk shopping and entertainment district.
During Wednesday’s luncheon, Palmieri did not discuss the CRDA’s plan for an enclosed Atlantic City marketplace that would mimic the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
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