Atlantic City was about to turn the page on a roller-coaster year with a nationally televised act on New Year’s Eve.

But officials dropped the New Year’s ball: Promoters hired by the state couldn’t find the right performer at the right price. Atlantic City lost a chance to be in the spotlight.

It was a fitting end to a weird year in Atlantic City, where the resort would attract thousands to the beach by day, then nearly default on a state loan by night. The city, desperately trying to reinvent itself after four casinos closed in 2014, faced more ups and downs in 2016.

The state took over the city. Construction started on a new campus for Stockton University. A fifth casino closed. A former owner of that casino was elected president of the United States.

“Atlantic City is known for being strange,” said Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “But this was a strange year even by Atlantic City standards.”

The drama began in January when Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced the so-called takeover bill. The measure would give the state vast power over the city’s dire finances.

City officials vowed to fight and sparked a months-long battle. A political Gordian knot was tied in Trenton that put the city at the edge of insolvency. There were betrayals, back-room deals and too many dueling news conferences.

“There aren’t that many cities in New Jersey that have been taken over in all or in part,” said Sharon Schulman, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. “It’s not something that anyone wants to do, so the different factions have a tug of war until they come up with what works the best.”

Lawmakers ultimately agreed in May to give the city 150 days to draft a recovery plan. The city produced a plan in October, but the state rejected it and took over the city’s finances in November.

While words like “takeover,” “shutdown” and “bankruptcy” loomed, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band drew thousands for beach concerts. The Atlantic City Airshow brought an estimated 450,000 tourists to the Boardwalk.

And crucial development projects got started. The Atlantic City Development Corp. broke ground on the Gateway Project, which will include a Stockton University campus and South Jersey Gas headquarters in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Bart Blatstein quietly re-opened Showboat Atlantic City, one of four casinos to close in 2014, as a hotel in July. Boraie Development began work in December on a 250-unit housing complex in the Southeast Inlet.

But that side of the Boardwalk still suffered in 2016. Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort closed its doors in October amid a labor strike by Unite Here Local 54. The closing put 2,800 people out of work.

And TEN, the casino formerly known as Revel, remains closed. Owner Glenn Straub insisted the place would re-open June 15 — his self-imposed deadline — even as he wore a hard hat and didn’t have crucial permits the day before. Officials are now planning an opening early next year.

The Taj strike and ensuing closing also brought national attention to the city because of the casino’s old owner, President-elect Donald Trump. Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton came to town to campaign against Trump. Clinton held a rally outside the empty Trump Plaza.

Despite the nonstop news, maybe it wasn’t a weird year after all, says Schulman.

“Major cities, and Atlantic City is a major city, go though these different ups and downs and renaissances. And they don’t come easy,” she said. “So I don’t think this was much more difficult than any city that goes through a hard time. It’s just that we’re here and it feels hard to us.”

And 2017 could be just as crazy.

“It’s not over yet,” Hale said, referring to the takeover and the city’s finances. “There’s a whole lot of work that still needs to get done.”

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Contact: 609-272-7215 CHetrick@pressofac.com Twitter @_Hetrick

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