Atlantic City’s Public Works crew have completed “years of work” in the three months leading up to Miss America, ensuring the Boardwalk is ready for what competition organizers estimate will be 200,000 spectators.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority paid more than $1.7 million to shore up and beautify the 4-mile expanse, but the actual work fell largely to about 25 city employees.
After the February announcement of Miss America’s return to Atlantic City, engineers discovered segments of the historic Boardwalk could not support the weight of the anticipated crowds and various parade vehicles. That sparked a race to reinforce those sections that continued last week.
Public Works Director Paul Jerkins said the majority of the work was completed by this weekend, leaving nearly a week to deal with incidentals prior to the Saturday’s Show Us Your Shoes Parade.
“I’m glad the parade triggered all this, but you’re doing several years of work in three months,” he said.
More than the Boardwalk has seen a major facelift in advance of Miss America, however.
The CRDA, which promotes economic development in the resort, financed $600,000 of repairs to Boardwalk Hall, which will host the Miss America competition. New landscaping was installed along Pacific Avenue and many streetlights were replaced. In recent weeks, police cleared the homeless from under the Boardwalk and the CRDA erected a billboard along Route 30 touting the competition.
Miss America was the “rallying cry,” said CRDA spokeswoman Kim Butler.
“You have company coming, you look at your house and say, ‘Hmm, I bet I can clean that up a bit,’” she said.
The pageant, first held in Atlantic City in 1921, is expected to be an economic boon for the resort. The Miss America Organization estimates it could draw about 200,000 visitors, in addition to millions of viewers of ABC’s finals broadcast. According to Nielsen, an estimated 5.2 million homes watched the January broadcast from Las Vegas.
Given that level of exposure, Butler said it was important that the city look its best.
“With infrastructure, you don’t see a lot of the improvements,” she said. “But if you look at the Boardwalk today, you’d see a brighter, cleaner Boardwalk.”
Jerkins said the city began working on the Boardwalk even before the CRDA money was secured. The funding helped pay for materials, he said, but labor costs were largely absorbed by the city.
“As soon as we knew what we had to do, we jumped into gear,” he said. “We didn’t want to get behind because of the red tape.”
Jerkins said it’s been a hectic summer because the Miss America preparations came in addition to the normal summer routine maintenance, beach cleaning and even assisting in the removal of Hurricane Sandy debris left on curbs by homeowners.
“There’s a lot of work a lot of people don’t know we do on a regular basis,” he said. “And this was above and beyond.”
The repairs aren’t limited to the boards that beachgoers see. Jenkins said many sections required pouring concrete caps on the piers that hold up the Boardwalk and replacing the wooden joists at weak points. Then, any surface boards that have rotted, splintered or warped were replaced.
Completed sections appear to be holding up well, he said, but Public Works will use the week prior to the parade to reinspect them for any loose boards.
“We’re very comfortable and confident everything through the parade route is 100 percent,” he said. “We’re driving trucks up there loaded with heavy lumber joists and beams ... and we’ve had no problems.”
The city is also installing a temporary drainage system at Rhode Island Avenue, the parade staging area. That project should be complete by this weekend, Jerkins said.
“If it fills up with water, it’ll be immediately pumped out to keep the street from a flooding situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, crews have repainted many of the railings that line the Boardwalk and replaced bad or missing rails at a rate of about 100 to 200 feet per day.
Beyond the major projects, Jerkins said there’s always the possibility of last-minute changes and requests. Two weeks ago, for instance, he learned authorities wanted to install two miles of snow fencing to keep vagrants out from under the Boardwalk.
Not everyone has been enthusiastic about the Boardwalk construction, particularly business owners who have already experienced a slow summer due to rainy weather and the residual effects of Hurricane Sandy and the economy.
“I think it’s ridiculous they waited until now to do it,” said Debbie Amir, as crews worked near her D&B souvenir shop on the Boardwalk’s south end on Labor Day weekend.
Domenico Gaggiano, who owns the nearby Celebrity Corner restaurant, said 2013 marked his worst year in more than a decade. The 57-year-old Ventnor resident has operated on the Boardwalk for 22 years.
“It’s a joke,” he said. “Right in the middle of the best weekend of the year.”
Butler said the CRDA hasn’t been notified of any businesses not being accessible due to construction.
“Public Works has done an admirable job in addressing the areas in need of attention and has been mindful of minimizing disruption to visitors and merchants,” she said.
For his part, Jerkins said the majority of work has focused on the center of the Boardwalk, which sees the heaviest foot and vehicle traffic. Similarly, he said, the weak areas are spread along the length of the Boardwalk. That means crews haven’t spent much time on any one section.
“We’ve moved very quickly and very efficiently to get this done,” he said. “Most areas by businesses are open.”
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