Yes, a new era has begun in Atlantic City. But in one way, what the resort also needs is a return to an old era - a time when everyone in the city acted with a unity of purpose.
The creation of a state-run Tourism District encompassing virtually all of the commercial areas of the city and overseen by an expanded Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is unprecedented. And, of course, controversial.
From the beginning of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, some have called for just this kind of state intervention in the resort. For just as long, many city residents have feared it. And that's understandable. No one wants to see his or her hometown controlled by "outsiders," which is why Mayor Lorenzo Langford cast the sole "no" vote on the CRDA board this week when the Tourism District was officially created.
The inclusion of city-owned Bader Field in the new Tourism District, the transfer to CRDA of planning and zoning responsibilities in the district and other aspects of the plan have some city residents feeling "violated," as one resident put it.
The problem is, Atlantic City is a one-of-a-kind place. It is a small town of neighborhoods populated by families whose roots in the city go back for generations. And it is, as Gov. Chris Christie put it in his characteristically blunt way the other day, "an ATM machine for the state," a gambling resort that funnels hundreds of millions of dollars a year to Trenton.
So yes, different people have different interests in what happens in Atlantic City, different hopes, different dreams. But there is no reason these different interests have to be competing interests.
It's important to remember that without tourism, there is no Atlantic City. From the very beginning of the resort, the town was about attracting visitors. For most of the city's history, it was understood - in the business community and in the neighborhoods - that tourism was the city's lifeblood. That unity of purpose eroded over the years - in part because there was political power to be gained and elections to win by pitting the city's residents against the city's tourism and, later, casino industries.
That division is a shame - and counterproductive, in our opinion. A successful Atlantic City, a thriving Atlantic City, a reinvented Atlantic City will be good for all stakeholders - the casino and tourism industries, the state of New Jersey and city residents.
Furthermore, the CRDA has a long history of improving the city's neighborhoods. And, under interim Executive Director Susan Ney Thompson, the agency has spent the last month reaching out and listening to community concerns. We have no doubt that CRDA officials will continue to listen.
Atlantic City has a new Tourism District. What it still needs is that unity of purpose that once defined the resort.