What's the longest-running show at Boardwalk Hall?
Answer: A song-and-dance number about high labor costs and onerous work rules that put the building at a competitive disadvantage with other venues.
Part of the problem is that the hall's "grid" - the lighting and sound system that hangs from the ceiling - is outdated, too small and requires an extra day of labor to set up for a show. A new grid is being designed and is expected to be installed by late May. That should help cut labor costs somewhat.
But the labor costs to put on a show at Boardwalk Hall have been higher than at other arenas for decades and decades. And now, these costs are driving away promoters at a time when Atlantic City should be focused on filling Boardwalk Hall as often as possible.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., the hall's largest casino user, has threatened to pull out of the hall unless it becomes less expensive, according to Greg Tesone, Boardwalk Hall's general manager. Tony Rodio, Tropicana Casino and Resort CEO, also is complaining about the labor costs.
And yet there is no outcry from elected officials or the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which is supposed to be taking over the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, the agency currently in direct charge of Boardwalk Hall. (What is the holdup with that takeover anyway?)
The current Boardwalk Hall labor contract - which requires that union electricians, at $98.40 an hour, do setup work that is done by lesser-paid workers in other arenas - has been in place since 2001. That's one long contract. It sure seems to us that it is time to take another look at this agreement.
Even Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, which represents food workers at the hall, is calling on the other unions to bring costs under control.
The problem may well be an inherent conflict set up by the CRDA's control of the Tourism District, including Boardwalk Hall: The CRDA board is largely controlled by organized labor.
The electricians who have this sweetheart deal at the hall are members of IBEW Local 351. That union's business manager is Edward H. Gant - a CRDA board member.
Frank Spencer, chief of the eastern district of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, is also on the CRDA board.
And the chairman of the CRDA board is James Kehoe, business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 322.
We don't mean to single anyone out. As we noted above, high labor costs at the hall were an issue long before the Tourism District was created, and long before the CRDA existed for that matter.
But the CRDA is in charge now. And the question is, considering the board's makeup, does it have the will and the ability to do something about labor costs at Boardwalk Hall?
It's difficult to say how many events are driven away from Atlantic City because of excessive costs at Boardwalk Hall. But this much is clear: Ten more events a year could make a major difference in the city's future.