Atlantic City officials will get an additional $1.5 million to continue demolishing eyesores in the resort, although they must confine the activity to the Tourism District.
“The objective that we have here is to be able to target the use of the funds to make a bigger impact to the Tourism District, which is our economic engine for the city,” said Susan Ney Thompson, deputy director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the source of the funds.
The CRDA agreed two years ago to reimburse the city for rehabilitation and demolition of blighted buildings with unresponsive owners. After a certain point — when liens, foreclosure threats and other mechanisms fail to move owners to action — the city has the right to foreclose on and demolish properties.
But that can be costly. And while the owner remains responsible for the expense, the city has no guarantee when, or if, it will recoup the money. CRDA reimbursement funding removes that uncertainty and allows the city to go forward.
So far, the initiative has brought down or forced improvements at 42 properties in the past 20 months using CRDA funding: $500,000 for South Inlet sites and $1 million for others citywide, city documents show.
At its Sept. 18 meeting, the CRDA board approved an additional $1.5 million for rehab and demolition projects within the district. The district-only rule is part of a new agreement between the city and CRDA that needs City Council approval before anything else can happen.
“Eliminating blight and taking down eyesores in the city benefits everybody, no matter where it is,” city Business Administrator Ron Cash said.
Council President William Marsh and Councilman Frank Gilliam, who heads council’s Planning & Development Committee, did not return calls for comment.
“We don’t look at it as being too narrow of a focus because” the district encompasses a relatively large geographic area, including the beaches, Boardwalk, casinos, Bader Field, Gardner’s Basin, the Marina District, The Walk, and Atlantic and Pacific avenues, Thompson said. “And prior funds (were) used … throughout the city.”
The money has paid to raze 1706 Arctic Ave., an abandoned apartment building that bred drug-related and violent crime. It also covered costs to bulldoze the former Abbott’s Dairy warehouse, which had been left to deteriorate for four decades in view of traffic on Route 30 — one of three highways into Atlantic City.
Both properties sit outside the boundaries of the Tourism District, which were established in April 2011 — two months after state laws gave the CRDA planning and development powers in that area.
Previous funding enabled demolition of Tourism District buildings, as well. They included the California Motel, which had long displayed its rotting exterior to people on the Boardwalk before it was taken down over the summer.
The large amount of asbestos discovered by the city in the old motel multiplied the expected expense of demolition there to nearly $800,000.
“That one was really a tremendous eyesore, and it’s no longer there. But it just kind of took all the oxygen out of the room because of the asbestos situation,” said Anthony Cox, director of the city’s Department of Licensing & Inspections.
Those costs contributed to a lag in the demolition initiative. But with more money imminent, Cox can move forward once council approves proposed agreements with demolition contractors.
Council could vote as soon as next week on agreements for the next round of demolitions, which include the set of crumbling buildings at Lincoln Place on the Boardwalk, he said.
“That’s a very good example of the clean-and-safe initiative addressing some of the problems people experience,” Thompson said. “We know those buildings are an impediment to residents just enjoying a walk on the Boardwalk. They might use a taxi or car rather than the Boardwalk on a beautiful night because of those buildings. So the demolition will remove that obstacle, and it’s a wonderful thing to allow people to be free and comfortable to move around the city, and ultimately translate to better business for the city.”
The dilapidated structures also have long been the source of complaints of residents, particularly those living in the adjacent Enclave condominiums. People living in the high-rise have said the vacant, unstable buildings pose risks to passers-by and are a magnet for squatters.
“Two of them are going to be knocked down, from what I understand. Not the big one in front. We would love all three knocked down,” said 6th Ward Councilman Tim Mancuso. “In one sense, it’s great, but in another sense, it’s taken an awful long time, so people are frustrated. But the good news is they are coming down.”
Once this round of $1.5 million is expended, the CRDA would consider funding more blight eradication throughout the city, Thompson said.
“That’s a hard call to make right now, but it’s going to be based on need … and if we feel we’ve gotten the right result (from) the Tourism District-focused moneys,” Thompson said. “We have a commitment here to the city as a whole, so it’s certainly conceivable we’d consider it.”
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