ATLANTIC CITY — Mayor Lorenzo Langford said Thursday he will “fight with every fiber of my being” to protect the city’s sovereignty as a bill to create a state-run Tourism District in Atlantic City makes its way to Gov. Chris Christie for final approval.
Langford’s strong statement was delivered in his “unofficial” State of the City address during the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association’s annual luncheon at Resorts Casino Hotel.
“The city should not be bifurcated and segregated in a way that resources — both human and financial — are afforded to certain sections of the city, while others see no attention at all,” Langford said. “We cannot — and we must not — create a tale of two cities.”
The mayor said he still embraces the concept of state intervention in the city’s ailing tourism industry but insisted local officials must have a say over what parts of the city the zone will include.
State lawmakers approved legislation Monday to expand the powers of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, appointing it the controlling entity over the Tourism District. The legislation also set preliminary boundaries of the district, which includes the Marina District, Bader Field and a large stretch of the Boardwalk and Atlantic and Pacific avenues that nearly reaches Ventnor.
The city’s administration has drafted its own map and boundaries, which would include only the beach and Boardwalk.
Langford said earlier this week that he still had concerns over the legislation, but he is waiting to pass judgment until he has read the final version in its entirety.
Along with the debate over boundaries, the mayor again referenced concerns about the city’s authority over planning and zoning, an issue Langford and other city officials were told would be addressed.
The original legislation put planning and zoning within the district under the authority of the CRDA. But Langford’s complaints, followed by negotiations with Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, led some to believe the city would retain those powers in the final bill. However, Langford’s speech hinted that he still might be unhappy with the bill’s terms, which call for the authority to “coordinate and collaborate” with the city’s planning and zoning departments.
“That aside, I’m hopeful that those concerns can be assuaged,” he said. “And I believe that when reasonable people sit down — and we do intend to sit with the governor — that we can craft this district so that it is in the best interest of all of our constituencies.”
After his speech, Langford told The Press of Atlantic City that he is in the process of arranging a meeting with Christie. Meanwhile, state legislators are hearing that the governor may travel to Atlantic City to sign the bill as early as next week.
Thursday’s speech caused some concern among legislators hoping to see Langford’s acceptance of the tourism plan.
“Obviously it’s a concern. Initially this was all about creating a partnership, but it doesn’t work if one side is unhappy,” said Assemblyman Vince Polistina, R-Atlantic. “The key is communication. If we can keep communication going between both sides, hopefully we’ll all come together in the end.”
The mayor’s speech also included a list of his administration’s accomplishments. Among them, he said the city is now in “complete compliance” with all of the audit findings issued one year ago by the Office of the State Comptroller. He also teased the audience with vague references to plans for concerts at Bader Field later this year. The Press previously reported Langford’s efforts to attract performers to Bader Field, a defunct municipal airport owned by the city.
He added that the administration is planning to hold a news conference regarding upcoming plans at Bader Field next week.
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