Two years ago, Gov. Chris Christie signed the law creating the Atlantic City Tourism District, part of a series of sweeping changes spurred by declining casino revenue. The state streamlined regulation of the industry, shifted millions of dollars in casino revenue away from previously required horseracing subsidies and into marketing efforts and gave the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority a new mission - overseeing the Tourism District.
These changes have brought visible progress, but much work remains.
On the plus side, the city has seen signs of renewed interest from developers. The CRDA helped finance the Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville Cafe and LandShark Bar & Grill under construction at Resorts Casino Hotel and a $134 million Las Vegas-style conference center that Harrah's Resort will build this year.
The Walk will be expanded with the expected groundbreaking this year for a huge Bass Pro Shops sporting goods store. The Wave parking garage opened in March.
The Boardwalk is cleaner, and a squad of ambassadors now patrol it, with a mission to help tourists and keep an eye out for trouble. There are new bus shelters and benches on Atlantic Avenue.
The new casino marketing coalition, the Atlantic City Alliance, launched a slick advertising campaign last year that helped rebrand the city. Beyond that, it has partnered with the CRDA on projects to beautify the city by turning vacant lots into art parks, featuring world-class artists.
On the negative side is the persistent feeling that so many obvious, simple improvements are taking too long. One of the first pieces of low-hanging fruit mentioned two years ago - improving the lighting on the Boardwalk - still hasn't been accomplished, although it is apparently under way.
Likewise, the CRDA is reportedly working on a plan to repave Pacific Avenue before the summer. At last. As soon as that project is finished, Atlantic Avenue should be next.
But what of one of the overarching goals of the Tourism District - to improve the city's image as a safe place to play? It is true that the crime rate is low within the Tourism District, but the continuing violence in some city neighborhoods still affects perceptions of Atlantic City's safety.
District officials seem to recognize this. In September 2011 the CRDA gave the city $3.5 million to pay for updated police technology. City officials recently said they were fast-tracking plans for a camera surveillance system. So here, too, progress is being made, but at a disappointing pace.
The biggest success of the past two years has been a new sense of cooperation, of various agencies, businesses, residents and interest groups all pulling their oars in the same direction.
We can hope that this new spirit of working together will be the lasting legacy of the district.