ATLANTIC CITY — A day after two tourists were stabbed to death in the heart of the Atlantic City Tourism District, a state official charged with leading the resort’s redevelopment efforts said the senseless killings are a major setback to efforts to promote the city as a safe vacation destination.
“This is a blow. There isn’t any other way to describe it,” said John Palmieri, executive director of the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which controls the Tourism District. “There wasn’t anything that could have been done to prevent this. Nevertheless, our responsibility is to create a clean and safe environment … to create an environment that’s appealing for visitors.”
Two Canadian women were killed Monday morning when Antoinette Pelzer, whose last known address was in Philadelphia, attacked them with a butcher knife on the corner of Michigan and Pacific avenues. The attack occurred in front of AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, and Bally’s Atlantic City.
A block away is The Walk, a 100-store outdoor complex operated by Tanger Outlets. The complex is often referenced by officials as one of the most popular tourist destinations outside of the resort’s 12 casinos.
Carolyn Thomas, of Peoria, Ill., set foot in Atlantic City for the first time Monday after arriving on a bus trip with friend, Linda Webb of Milton, Penn. Thomas said she heard some talk of the attacks on the bus ride followed by questions about the city’s policing efforts. Both women said they knew few details of the attack — which was intercepted by a police officer within 13 seconds, according to law-enforcement officials.
“I didn’t realize it had happened in the daytime … unsettling,” Webb said Tuesday.
Thomas said because of the attack she would plan to always walk with a friend and be aware of her surroundings.
“It just makes you want to be a little more cautious, but I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it,” Thomas said. “Things like this happen in cities, but they happen everywhere. It happens in Peoria, too.”
Cristin Bentz, assistant general manager at The Walk, said members of the complex’s 24-hour security staff met Tuesday morning and planned to ensure that their presence was very visible, but maintained that the open-air property is safe and is not affiliated with the area where the attack occurred.
“This is a safe area. We can’t speak for what happens off the property,” Bentz said.
The stabbings occurred days before Memorial Day weekend, set to be a banner weekend for the resort. Revel, the new $2.4 billion megaresort fully opens on the holiday weekend with four days of concerts by headliner Beyonce.
“I think it gives everyone pause when something like this happens,” Palmieri said when asked about how the killings might affect perceptions of safety as the holiday weekend approaches. “We’re all going to be thinking about this for a while.”
Still, some tourists said they were unfazed by news of the killings.
“I think it’s being blown out of proportion. I’d walk around here without a problem, but you’re also talking to someone who lives by New York,” said Grace Jaramillo, of Berganfield, Bergan County.
Jaramillo was in town with friends, including Dia Palma, of Bloomfield, Essex County, for a conference at AtlantiCare.
“I was like, ‘A stabbing? That’s it? What’s the big deal?’” said Palma, who works as a trauma nurse.
A new $20 million marketing campaign hinged on the slogan, “Do AC!,” was recently launched by the Atlantic City Alliance, the nonprofit marketing arm of CRDA. Officials intend for the campaign to revive Atlantic City’s image and draw more visitors from the Northeast, particularly Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York.
Media outlets in those cities have reported on the attacks.
“Obviously, this type of senseless and random act of violence is upsetting regardless of where or when it occurs,” said Liza Cartmell, chief executive officer of the ACA. “Atlantic City has developed highly integrated and sophisticated security efforts among all its public and private interests which successfully protect approximately 30 million visitors a year. The safety of our residents and visitors is of the utmost importance to everyone here.”
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