A panel of development experts, officials, and entrepreneurs came together at the Atlantic City Convention Center Wednesday to portray a transformative moment for the city’s South Inlet.
The event was put on by the Philadelphia branch of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit specializing in land use and real estate policy.
At the behest of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the ULI came to Atlantic City for six days in March, 2014 to study the persistently blighted area and propose a redevelopment plan.
Ten months later, some of the ULI’s recommendations, such as the demolition of The View apartment building at the intersection of Oriental Avenue and S. New Hampshire Avenue, and the renaming of the South Inlet as the Lighthouse District, have yet to see movement.
However, panel participants focused on the positive, and said their overall vision, which calls for complimentary residential and business development in the area, was starting to take shape.
Wasseem Boraie, Vice President of Boraie Development LLC, announced that work will begin this spring at the company’s long-planned 250-unit apartment complex.
“It’s got to be a group effort between the public, the universities, the agencies,” Boraie said of development efforts in the Inlet. “I was very happy with what I heard.”
Richard Stockton College President Herman Saatkamp, who recently completed the school’s purchase of the former Showboat Atlantic City, confirmed that some of the property’s condos and hotel rooms will be back on the market this summer, while around eight classes will be offered to Stockton students.
Saatkamp said that by the fall, he expects 400 students to be living in the building, with between 1,000 and 1,500 taking classes there.
“Maybe for the first time in the history of Atlantic City, everyone is trying to move forward in a very positive way,” Saatkamp said. “There’s not one thing we can do, there are hundreds of things that we can do, and we have to do them together.”
“What you heard here is an opportunity” said Tom Murphy, a Senior Resident Fellow at the ULI and the former mayor of Pittsburgh. “After 25 or 30 years of being lost in the desert, the leaders are aligned (regarding) what has to happen.”
Lorenzo Langford, who led the city from 2008 through 2013, declined to comment on his administration’s past development efforts.
“I think this is a good description of where Atlantic city is right now,” said Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian. “We’ve found a lot of people that are all on the same page, and we all have the same vision going forward.”
Murphy said that Stockton’s efforts will be key to the city’s redevelopment.
“Pittsburgh was Atlantic City when the steel industry collapsed,” Murphy said. “We were a one-horse town trying to figure out what we’re going to be. The universities have been the economic drivers that transformed Pittsburgh.”
While he wouldn’t share specifics, Saatkamp said he’s aware of real estate companies that are already taking an interest in the land around Showboat, with their eye on creating businesses that cater to faculty and students.
Newly elected City Council President Frank M. Gilliam, who attended the event, also emphasized Stockton’s ability to create further industry.
“You’ll begin to see smaller investments that have a ripple effect,” Gilliam said. “The Southeast Inlet is going to be the shining star of Atlantic City.”
Elizabeth Terenik, who directs the city’s planning and development department, and who also attended the conference, emphasized the need to promote local entrepreneurs, in addition to supporting large development initiatives.
“When you’re just an employee, you could work so hard, you could do all the right things, and then there may be things beyond your control,” Terenik said, citing economic fluctuations or market competition.
Terenik said the Small Business Administration will host an Atlantic City workshop in April to promote self-employment.
“The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it generally (promotes) more creative businesses, and it empowers an individual to have control over their future,” she said. “The city wants to become an entrepreneur hub.”
Multiple leaders have discussed their desire to bring recent college graduates into Atlantic City. Terenik said that while that’s part of the city’s vision for the future, local residents must not be displaced in the process.
“There’s a tipping point,” Terenik said. “You have to try and control that tide so it doesn’t push out the people that are here. We want the injection of new people and resources to benefit the people that are here now.”
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