After Hurricane Sandy pummeled the region in October, many weren’t sure how the state would fare in 2013. Perhaps some of the biggest triumphs — or obstacles — of 2013 may be seen along the South Jersey shore as people and businesses work to return to normalcy. That’s a noteworthy challenge, particularly for the region’s hardest-hit shore towns on Long Beach Island, which hope to be ready for summer.
Regardless of the tests that lie ahead, there is plenty to look forward to this year, from a packed entertainment lineup to new shopping opportunities to casino expansions.
1. Margaritaville: Expected to open in time for Memorial Day, Resorts Casino Hotel will transform itself from a haven for Roaring ’20s flappers into a paradise for Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads. A $35.5 million project that will create a LandShark Bar & Grill, retail shop and other beachfront attractions is under construction where Steeplechase Pier once stood. Inside the casino, patrons will be treated to a tropical island makeover with a Margaritaville Cafe, shopping and a re-themed section of gambling on the casino floor.
2. Harrah’s Conference Center: Planned to bring an untapped conference-business market, construction is expected to break ground early this year on a 250,000-square-foot addition to the Marina District property. The $134 million Las Vegas-style center will be built to model a similar facility at Caesars Palace and is expected to be complete by late 2014. The two-story center will provide for more than 50 different configurations, allowing the casino to take on meetings currently held in cities such as Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas.
3. Parkway light removal in Cape May County: After decades of discussion, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is moving forward with plans to remove the only three traffic lights on the Garden State Parkway. Blamed for a multitude of accidents over the years, legislators and residents have long rallied for the removal of the lights at Exits 9, 10 and 11. A $72 million construction contract for the work was awarded last month, and the project will begin shortly. Still, it will be 2016 before the new exits are complete.
4. Art initiatives: Art became a popular subject in Atlantic City in 2012, and that trend is expected to continue in 2013 with the opening of another outdoor art project sponsored by the Atlantic City Alliance. The alliance has committed to turning six vacant lots into temporary public art installations in five years. Two have already opened. The third is expected to transform the site of the former Playboy Hotel & Casino. A design hasn’t been released, but officials have said it will include a series of elevated ramps leading to a clear view of the beach and ocean.
5. Entertainment: Plenty of all-star entertainers have decided to make Atlantic City a stop on their tour routes this year. British rock legend Morrissey is scheduled to play at Showboat’s House of Blues on Jan. 12. His show is already sold out, but tickets are still available for The Who: Quadrophenia and More at Boardwalk Hall on Feb. 22. Actor and comedian Jack Black is scheduled to come to town Feb. 28 with the Tenacious D Old School Acoustic Style concert at the House of Blues. Meanwhile, the Atlantic City Airshow has been scheduled for June 26, a move that would return the show to midweek but push it earlier than its usual August date.
6. Atlantic City Arts District: Following the reopening of Dante Hall Theater for the Arts last year, officials are moving forward with plans for a cohesive arts district in the city. The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority are partnering to open the city’s first art retail space on the first floor of The Wave parking garage by early summer. Expected to anchor the district, the space will provide a spot to watch artists in action and purchase their work. A cafe and shop are also expected.
7. Traffic-congestion relief: Look for the final phase of the third-lane widening on the Atlantic City Expressway to begin this month. The expansion will add a third westbound lane from milepost 25 to Exit 31 for Route 73 in Winslow Township, Camden County. The $15.4 million project is expected to take 18 months to complete and will make for a smoother ride home from South Jersey’s shore towns in the summer. The South Jersey Transportation Authority and Atlantic County are also moving forward with plans for traffic relief at the Airport Circle by constructing two roads that will bypass the often-criticized intersection. Design and permitting should be complete by May, with the project going out to bid later this year.
8. More shopping: Outdoor enthusiasts will soon have a haven for all camping, boating, fishing and hunting needs with Bass Pro Shops taking up residence as the final planned phase of development for Tanger Outlets The Walk. The massive 90,000-square-foot store at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway is expected to begin construction this spring and open later this year or by spring 2014. The Hamilton Mall will also unveil its first expansion since the mall opened 25 years ago. New this year will be a Buffalo Wild Wings, a LongHorn Steakhouse and 63,000 square feet of retail, including Forever 21 and H&M.
9. Education: The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey is on track to open a $40 million science building in the fall. The 65,000-square-foot building is located adjacent to the college’s Campus Center. College officials hope the new construction will attract more students to the school. An addition to the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage should be ready this month. The college plans to offer Holocaust education programs at the center.
10. Internet gambling: The state Senate and Assembly have both passed a bill allowing Internet gambling in New Jersey. The legislation has been sent to Gov. Christ Christie, who has 45 days to veto it. If he doesn’t choose to do so, the legislation becomes law and the state Division of Gaming Enforcement could begin drafting rules as early as February. Residents might be excited by the prospects of gambling online, but some legislators have warned that legalizing Internet wagering could hurt Atlantic City’s already slumping revenues.
11. Better measures of Atlantic City’s health: Each quarter, the state releases figures that offer a glimpse of Atlantic City’s health in terms of gambling revenue. Understanding how well the resort is doing in terms of nongambling attractions has been less clear without efficient measurement tools, but that is expected to change in February, when the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority rolls out a new tourism barometer that will measure sales in restaurants, retail and concert tickets. Over time, that information could be used to better market the city and strengthen its nongambling amenities, officials have said.
12. Recreation: First came the horses, now the skateboarders. Earlier this year, Atlantic City introduced horseback riding on its beaches as a means of attracting more tourists to the resort. Next, look for a skate park in the city’s Ducktown section on Arctic Avenue. The park, which will be situated on one-third of an acre of land, will accommodate skateboards and BMX bikes and is expected to open by the summer.
13. Sports betting: 2013 could see a resolution to the question of legalized sports betting in New Jersey. Last year, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill authorizing the state Division of Gaming Enforcement to regulate the practice, challenging a federal ban on sports betting. A group of five sports organizations have sued, and a judge recently denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case. Another hearing that will look at constitutional arguments will be scheduled after Jan. 20.