ATLANTIC CITY — One of Atlantic City’s oldest hotels will become the newest player in the resort’s recently expanding venues for conventions and meeting.
The Claridge Hotel is building a 15,000-square-foot conference center as part of a $3 million project that also includes a rooftop bar and a Mediterranean fast food eatery, company officials said.
Work is expected to be completed by the end of summer at the 24-story hotel, which opened in 1930 during the Great Depression.
Cem Erenler, vice president of hotel operations and business development, called the move toward conventions necessary for a hotel that does not have a casino.
“Our guests are not gamblers. They’re vacation seekers, couples, families and they want to get away. Ninety-five percent of our business is non-gamblers,” Erenler said.
“We have lots of companies that are asking for corporate business in a non-casino hotel,” Erenler said.
Harrah’s Resort spent more than $125 million for its Waterfront Convention Center, which opened September; Resorts Casino Hotel spent $5 million on its 15,000-square-foot convention space last August.
Conventions have been a growing industry in the the resort, although city conference officials say Atlantic City’s instability and potential state takeover have started to impact bookings.
Atlantic City hotel rooms booked because of conventions increased by 48 percent for 2015, according to Meet AC, the group that promotes the city as a meeting destination.
The industry booked 253,000 room nights last year, compared to 171,000 in 2014, according to Meet AC.
The local convention and visitors bureau said the city was on pace earlier this year to fill a record 300,000 hotel room-nights with convention and meeting visitors. But the group's chairman warned city and state leaders that recent events have forced Meet AC to cut back its projections by 40 percent, to 180,000 room-nights for 2016 conventions.
Despite the decrease, Meet AC President and CEO Jim Wood said the project is a good idea for the Claridge.
“I really think that’s a nice addition to the Claridge to add a meeting space. It signifies that the group market is emerging here in Atlantic City,” Wood said.
And Wood expects the trend to continue in the city.
“Everyone will continue to evaluate the meeting spaces they have and to determine if they want to grow their meetings market,” Wood said. “We’re optimistic that there will be growth in our marketplace through the meetings market and that will drive more business into Atlantic City.”
The Claridge’s conference center will feature six breakout rooms and can hold up to 600 people, according to the hotel.
Erenler said planning for the convention has been going on for more than six months. Erenler said the conference center should be open by the end of July and that seven conferences have already been booked.
Conventions can be big business elsewhere in the U.S.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says 21,306 conventions were held in Las Vegas last year, drawing about 5.9 million attendees.
Last year, about 9 percent of visitors to Las Vegas primarily went there primarily to attend a convention, meeting or trade show, up 2 percentage points from 2013, according to research prepared for the authority.
The Claridge will also be adding a 10,000-square-foot rooftop bar which can hold 1,000 total people. Also, the lobby will feature a new cafe and Mediterranean fast food shop where customers can order either from inside the lobby or outside on Indiana Avenue.
“We are becoming a fully established hotel with all amenities in place to respond to our guests demand,” Erenler said. “That will enable us to capture great rates and revenues and give the guests great choices. Gambling is in the past. We should make people feel special and they should be proud coming here.”