ATLANTIC CITY — Despite the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy, in the resort it’s still beginning to look a lot like Christmas, in many places you go.
Crews have set up the resort’s Christmas tree at The Walk, decked many of the lightpoles with candy canes and placed outsized holiday decorations at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway.
It’s all part of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s plans to spend $595,000 to spruce up the gambling resort in time for the holiday season — what is typically one of the slowest months of the year — and lifting the spirits of people who have seen trying times.
“We really wanted to have Christmas lights that blow away all the gloom we had in the past and to show that we are back, open for business and this will be a good holiday season for everyone,” said Don Guardian, executive director of the CRDA’s Special Improvement Division. The decorations were planned long before the storm came ashore Oct. 29, causing flooding and destruction.
Atlantic City will host its largest Christmas parade in a generation Saturday. About 60 groups will start at noon at Atlantic and Vermont avenues. Marching bands will take the street alongside casino-sponsored floats and others, proceeding with Santa Claus to Michigan and Baltic avenues.
Organizers had hoped to start at Atlantic and the Boardwalk, Guardian said, but Hurricane Sandy shortened the route by two blocks when it wiped out that section of the Boardwalk and washed sand around.
Planners had also hoped to place the resort Christmas tree on the Boardwalk there, a throwback to memories many older residents have of previous holiday seasons.
Instead, the 35-foot tree and its 3,000 lights were placed at the foot of the expressway. Crews in a bucket truck hung decorations on it Wednesday afternoon. Guardian said the tree will light up at dusk on Saturday. There will be no ceremony, he said, as it is in the strip in the middle of a major highway.
Elsewhere throughout the city, 6-foot red-and-white tinsel candy canes hung from light poles along Atlantic and Arctic avenues on Wednesday. They provided a cheery contrast at times to nearby storm-battered buildings with plywood sheets and masking-tape stars on their windows or with blue tarps tacked to their damaged roofs to keep out the rain.
Crews also plan to place shooting stars on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard lightpoles. Guardian described a light and sound show at Capt. John A. O’Donnell Park that will play every 15 minutes between 5 and 9 p.m., as well as another “dynamic light show” near Christopher Columbus Park.
At Boardwalk Hall, another show, “Winter Sweet,” uses music and 3-D images projected against the historic venue. It replaces “Duality,” which will return in the spring. “Winter Sweet” is scheduled to run through the winter, every half-hour from 6 to 9 p.m. The show debuts Dec. 1, with singer Clay Aiken appearing at a celebration from 5:30 to 7 p.m. that features music, hot beverages and sweets. The first performance will be at 6 p.m.
At Center City Park, in front of the county civil courthouse between South Carolina and North Carolina avenues, workers landscaped the grounds Wednesday, raking leaves and preparing the park for holiday lighting. The lightpoles were wrapped in red and white tinsel and the trees were strewn with lights, while tinsel poinsettias hung from poles. Large lights spelled out “Seasons Greetings.”
But some waiting for the bus in the elements at one of the region’s most popular transfer stations didn’t feel the holiday spirit. Instead, they wondered where was the long-promised bus shelter to replace the one taken down in April.
“They put them up for the jitneys” on Pacific Avenue, said lifelong resort resident Al Copeland, 72, forced from his home by hurricane flooding. “Now it’s wintertime and still no shelter.”
“Didn’t expect much, didn’t get much,” he said of the decorations.
Guardian said the CRDA is on track to install 60 bus shelters with CRDA posters saying “seasons greetings.”
At Center City Park, he said, the new, larger structure would be in place by Dec. 17, possibly Dec. 10.
Others at the bus stop had mixed opinions.
“Me, myself, I would have thought there would be more lights decorating out there,” said Atlantic City resident Karen Johnson, 58, as she waited for the 502 bus. Instead, she said, she looked out on a street very similar to one she has seen years before.
Jared Kidd, 24, waiting to go to college classes in Mays Landing, was more circumspect. While the lights may be incomplete, he saw the decorations as a way to make people feel better in a trying time.
“I guess the city needs something, because as far as Hurricane Sandy, everybody was hit,” he said. “So they gotta bring everybody’s spirits up.”
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