Acting CRDA Director Susan Ney-Thompson conducts a public forum on the Atlantic City Tourism District March 28 at the MLK Complex in Atlantic City. Thompson now wants to take community involvement one step further, and is looking for four city residents to serve on the nine-member Advisory Commission. Ben Fogletto

ATLANTIC CITY - The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is seeking four people to represent community interests and help it run the Atlantic City Tourism District.

State laws establishing the Tourism District set aside four spots for city residents on the nine-person Advisory Commission. Representatives of the casino and tourism industries, Greater Atlantic City Regional Chamber and city and county governments will occupy the other seats.

Launched April 19, the district includes city beaches, the Boardwalk, Marina District, Bader Field, Gardner's Basin and casinos, as well as the vicinity of the Atlantic City Convention Center and The Walk outlet shopping district, Ducktown neighborhood and nonresidential areas along Pacific and Atlantic avenues.

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Susan Ney Thompson, interim executive director of the CRDA, could not specify how many hours commission members would need to dedicate to the position.

"It's not about hours, but a commitment to be there and realizing the ebb and flow of the need," she said.

City officials did not respond to calls for comment. Chamber President Joe Kelly expects to choose someone by May 12. Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said he expects to decide among several county employees with planning and development expertise in time for the county Board of Chosen Freeholders to approve his choice before the CRDA's deadline.

The CRDA board could finalize Advisory Commission membership as early as May 17, but would delay that decision if the authority is inundated with resident applications and needs more time, Thompson said.

The CRDA can choose to add representatives who live beyond city limits but have a stake in the district's success due to the resort's regional economic importance.

"We don't have any preconceived notions. If there's a nonresident with an exceptional contribution to make, we have the latitude for them to join the group in some fashion," Thompson said.

How it works

The commission will not have any decision-making power, but instead will provide feedback to the CRDA board on spending and other matters specific to the Tourism District, likely by meeting publicly every other month, if not more often.

Those and other details will not be established until after the commission starts meeting, Thompson said.

"(The commission) doesn't have any control over CRDA board actions, but the CRDA board will benefit greatly by the commission's input because it will be very locally represented," she said.

Twelve of 17 people on the CRDA board live outside Atlantic County. Over the years, decisions to spend money beyond the city and surrounding region have sparked criticism. The state law that defines the district's regulatory framework calls for keeping CRDA funds - which are generated from a tax of 1.25 percent of casinos' gross annual operating revenue - within city limits.

The CRDA was formed during the mid-1980s to reinvest that money into community projects. It will continue to do so, but its role is expanding to enable it to run the district.

The Atlantic City Special Improvement District and Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority will be folded into the CRDA, with the SID forming the backbone of the land-use division and the ACCVA focusing on convention sales and public relations.

Formerly handled entirely by the ACCVA, marketing duties will mostly be taken over by the Atlantic City Alliance, a casino-funded nonprofit comprised of casino executives.

As the district launch date neared, the CRDA decided it would create a Community Partnership division to focus on citywide social-welfare and quality-of-life issues including employment, safety concerns and nonconforming uses and maintenance of private properties by engaging neighborhood stakeholders to identify problems and come up with solutions, Thompson said.

"When we got a couple of community meetings completed, we immediately saw some common themes in concerns expressed by residents," she said. "Not just, ‘How will this tourism district work?' but, ‘How are the problems continuing to face Atlantic City going to be resolved?' In order to fully engage with advancing Atlantic City as a whole, we needed to dedicate staff resources to addressing challenges and obstacles faced by residents here."

Potential voices

The CRDA will have a hand in picking the tourism-industry representative, too, but does not intend to seek someone from a particular industry and has not excluded Alliance members, Thompson said.

City resident Bob McDevitt, president of the area's largest union, Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, said he had not considered seeking a spot on the commission but that other commitments such as pending contract negotiations likely would prohibit him from serving. McDevitt also said he does not have immediate plans to push any of the union's 12,000 hospitality workers to do so.

Cornell Davis, former president of the Atlantic City Board of Education who was born and raised in the resort, said he does not intend to pursue a seat because he anticipates conflicts from his involvement in re-establishing the nightlife and entertainment district on Kentucky Avenue that made the stretch famous during the mid-20th century.

But he supports the idea, saying that having four residents on the commission will increase transparency and provide a more accessible route for community input on CRDA initiatives.

"The only resident on the CRDA board is the mayor, and that's by legislation. The rest are appointed at the pleasure of the Governor's Office," Davis said. "So in terms of the community having a voice, it's a good thing."

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What it means

What: Atlantic City Tourism District Advisory Commission

Who: Nine people: four resort residents, plus one person from the casino and tourism industries, city and county governments and the Greater Atlantic City Regional Chamber

When: The CRDA board could vote on resident representatives at its May 17 meeting so commission meetings are under way by month's end.

Why: The panel will provide local input on Tourism District decisions to CRDA board members, 12 of 17 who live beyond Atlantic City.

More information: To apply for a spot on the commission, send a resume and explanatory letter to the attention of the Tourism District Advisory Commission at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, 1014 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ 08401.



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