ATLANTIC CITY - Ground broke 14 years ago this month on a $14.5 million baseball stadium, dubbed the Sandcastle, that was supposed to help revive the resort's sports scene.
The batter's box has since become overgrown with weeds in the two years since the Atlantic City Surf last played in the stadium. The windows are boarded up, tarps cover the scoreboard, and as of a couple weeks ago, it was deemed by insurance providers as "abandoned."
But thousands of folding chairs acted as virtual bandages for the neglected infield Saturday night, as bone-rattling bass beats, occasionally profanity-laced lyrics and the smell of marijuana filled the air around Sandcastle Stadium during the first Atlantic City Summer Fest.
More than 3,500 hip-hop fans bought tickets to the festival that featured Rick Ross, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and State Property. Seating was broken up by ticket price, with lower-priced general admission tickets good for a seat in the stadium seats, and two differently priced sections of folding chairs separated on the field by metal barricades and a handful of security guards.
It took less than two hours for the crowd in the stands to move toward the stage, leaving the barricades and security guards in the dust.
"Their ticketing procedures need some work," Tom Foley, director of Atlantic City's Office of Emergency Management, said as the performers on stage pleaded unsuccessfully for the crowd to return to their seats.
Despite the rush to the stage - which was caused when a performer announced he would give $100 to the person who could perform the best "Dougie" dance - Foley said Capt. Frank Brennan and the Atlantic City Police Department, along with the Strike Force security team, had the event under control.
"We are just trying to make sure that things stay under control so everyone stays safe and can continue having a good time," Foley said.
Foley said there were a handful of other incidents prior to the 7:45 p.m. breach - including portable toilets being knocked over - that the city would follow up with the concert's promoters about. Full carloads of people were still arriving at the stadium as of 10 p.m.
"This is an amazing venue, so we hope it works out," Foley said. "We want to make sure Atlantic City remains ‘Always Turned On.'"
Summer Fest was the second major music festival to come to Atlantic City in as many weeks, after the Dave Matthews Band Caravan brought as many as 30,000 people per night for the three days it occupied Bader Field, another neglected property that sits beyond Sandcastle Stadium's outfield wall.
Fans who attended Summer Fest seemed unfazed by the stadium's condition.
"It's outside, the weather's nice and the music sounds great," said Cilia Tisdale, 25, of Millville, while dancing close to the stage with her friend Tara Messer, 25, of Vineland. "Nobody cares what the place looks like if they're seeing who they want to see."
Nadia Parker left Washington, D.C., at 7 a.m. to make sure she arrived early for her chance to see headliner Ross.
"This is the place to be," said Parker, 27. "I have seen him once before, when he first came out. But when I heard he was coming here, I wanted to be here."
Parker was among the first to get in line at 2:30 p.m. At 5:30 p.m., she was still waiting to get in.
"Nobody here has a clue where to get will-call tickets or where to go for anything," she said. "I hope this is all worth it."
Traffic also was backed up on Albany Avenue as cars tried to enter the parking lot, where they were greeted by people charging several different parking prices, even though there was supposed to be a set price. Prices ranged from $10 to $20.
But once inside, people had few complaints.
"It would be better if it didn't take so long to get in, or they had some of these stands open so we could get some food or beer," said W. B. Bartlett, 24, of Bridgeton, who was in the crowd to watch his cousin Maquan Dawkins perform. "But overall I think they've got a good setup. I'd come back again."
The event also gave some local artists a chance to perform on the same stage as their idols.
"This was a dream come true for me. I almost started crying on stage," said Chais Hill, 30, of Mays Landing whose stage name is Chais the Great. "A lot of my inspiration comes from by brother, Destin, who was killed at Wash's in Pleasantville in 2002, and I was sleeping on my mom's floor a couple years ago. So it means a lot to be able to be here and show what I can do in front of so many people."
Galloway Township resident Tarelle "Arsa" Brown said it was a strange opportunity to get to perform at Sandcastle Stadium.
"I still think of this as a baseball stadium," said Brown, 28, after leaving the stage. "It's something I'd never thought I'd have a chance to do."
Mayor Lorenzo Langford took in the sights from the concourse.
"People are still trickling in, but so far it's looking good," Langford said shortly before 7:30 p.m. "I think the promoters did a great job at getting this done in the short window they had to work with, and the city staff should get credit for pulling everything together to make sure it could happen."
Langford said that for the second week in a row, two of the higher-profile vacant properties in the city were not only being used, "they're being enjoyed." But he said there are no immediate follow-up plans for the properties.
"Only that we hope we can keep it going," he said.
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