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Sisters of Mercy say goodbye to Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Anyone who attended Our Lady Star of the Sea elementary school remembers learning from members of the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic women’s religious congregation.

After more than a century, the sisters are leaving the resort for good. Of the remaining two, Sister M. Shamus Zehrer has left and Sister Christine Triggs is in the process of leaving, so a farewell liturgy and reception were held for them and the Sisters of Mercy as a whole Monday at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church on Atlantic Avenue.

Besides Our Lady Star of the Sea School, the Sisters of Mercy also taught or had ministries at other places in the resort, such as Saint Nicholas of Tolentine School, Holy Spirit elementary and high schools, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, the now defunct King David Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, and Catholic Social Services.

The Sisters of Mercy first served in Atlantic City in 1908. More than 400 members spent time in the resort over 111 years, the Rev. Patrick Brady said.

“Don’t cry because the Sisters of Mercy are leaving here, smile because they were here,” Brady said.

Most of the 450 people who filled the church Monday seemed to be affiliated with Our Lady Star of the Sea, the island’s only remaining Catholic school, as references to the school were met with cheers and applause.

The convent where the sisters stayed will be closed. The Camden Diocese has not revealed what will happen to it.

Sister Christine is leaving the resort to become the assistant life coordinator at Gabriel Hall at the Mount Saint Mary campus in Watchung, Somerset County, said Debbi Della Porta, director of communications for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Mid-Atlantic Community.

Sister Shamus, 83, became ill over the weekend and left ahead of time for the McAuley Hall Health Care Center, also in Watchung, Della Porta said.

Sister Shamus was a 38-year principal of Our Lady Star of the Sea, retiring in 2014. She came to the city in 1968 as a teacher at the old Holy Spirit Grammar School on Massachusetts Avenue and became its principal in 1976.

A sign for Sister Shamus Way hangs in the air at California and Atlantic avenues outside the church. The school’s primary annual fundraiser, the Sister Shamus Walk, was named after her and marked its 10th anniversary in June.

A bagpipe trio opened the service, which Sister Christine was in the church to hear. She also heard the well wishes that came from the Rev. Jon Thomas, the pastor of the citywide Parish of Saint Monica, and Sister Elizabeth O’Hara, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy.

After the service, Sister Christine said she taught mostly sixth- to eighth-grade math and eighth-grade religion at Our Lady Star of the Sea School.

Sister Christine said she was optimistic about the future because of the children she met through teaching at Our Lady Star of the Sea.

“The children were an inspiration. People look at things that make the headlines, and they get discouraged,” Sister Christine said. “I have been teaching young children for 38 years, and I have so much hope because they are so good.”

Sister Elizabeth graduated from Our Lady Star of the Sea School in 1949 and graduated from Holy Spirit High School in 1953. She was one of seven children in her family who attended the school. Her oldest brother attended in 1934, and her youngest brother graduated in 1961.

Sister Elizabeth made the hundreds of attendees gasp and sigh with the recognition of names of sisters who are no longer at the school.

She said the Sisters of Mercy are leaving, but it was up to all the people who attended the farewell liturgy and reception to support the school and keep its doors open.

“Our Lady Star of the Sea Regional School needs support for the future. Let our fond memories and gratitude continue to support the ministry of Catholic education in Atlantic City,” Sister Elizabeth said.

PHOTOS of Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Atlantic City

Atlantic City may become focal point in completed Caesars, Eldorado deal

In the midst of a blockbuster merger that will create the United States’ largest gaming company, Eldorado Resorts Inc. and Caesars Entertainment Corp. delivered quarterly financial reports this week that offer a clearer picture of Atlantic City’s future following the anticipated completion of the $17.3 billion deal in early 2020.

The newly formed gaming company, which will retain the Caesars name but operate under Eldorado’s corporate ethos, will control four of Atlantic City’s nine casino properties when the deal is finalized, accounting for nearly 37% of the market’s gaming revenue and employing 40% of the industry’s workforce.

The second-quarter financial reports show both Eldorado and Caesars are in a good position ahead of the deal but indicate Atlantic City could become a focal point for operating efficiencies and property sales going forward.

Caesars cited additional casino properties in the Atlantic City market as a contributing factor to falling revenues for its properties outside Las Vegas.

In a financial report released Monday, the gaming operator said overall net revenues increased by 4.9%, or $103 million, for the three-month period, but decreased $47 million throughout the country in areas other than Las Vegas “due to increased competition in Atlantic City” and other regional jurisdictions.

Caesars CEO Tony Rodio — former chief executive of Tropicana Atlantic City — said the company “delivered solid results in the second quarter” but pointed out the numbers were “partially offset by competitive pressures in Atlantic City and other parts of our regional portfolio.”

During a conference call with investors and analysts to discuss the quarterly financials, Rodio said the company’s three Atlantic City properties — Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s Resort — “underperformed” compared to the other four casinos in the resort that were operating before the June 27, 2018, dual openings of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort.

“So if those other properties could figure out a way to hold on to market share to some degree and then to do it on a profitable basis, I certainly think Caesars Entertainment should be able to do it,” Rodio said.

Earlier in the call, Rodio expressed cautious optimism for the market, saying: “And I mean, call me crazy, but I think we can improve things in Atlantic City a little bit.”

He also suggested part of the company’s problems in Atlantic City were due to a lack of capital investment in the properties.

“Particularly at Caesars Atlantic City, not so much at Harrah’s, that I think that we could be deploying a little bit more capital dollars to create some incentives and some nongaming amenities that give people a reason to come and visit our property,” Rodio said. “If you look at the properties that are successful — and I think Hard Rock is turning it around a little bit — it’s properties that have reinvested in the experience. And I think that we have failed to do that over the last couple of years.”

Eldorado, a new entrant into the Atlantic City market with its 2018 acquisition of Tropicana, reported net revenue losses of 3.5% in the East Region for the quarter compared to last year, but operating income and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, considered the most accurate measure of corporate performance, both increased.

Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg said the 12-month EBITDA for Tropicana was “almost identical” to the pre-Hard Rock and Ocean additions to the market, a point he said the company was “extraordinarily pleased” with during Tuesday’s conference call with investors and analysts.

Reeg also reiterated a previous point that the newly formed company would seek almost $500 million in “synergies” once the deal is complete. Industry experts believe a sale of an Atlantic City property currently operated by Caesars is a potential target for realizing some of Eldorado’s desired efficiencies.

“If they sold an asset in Atlantic City, it wouldn’t be bad,” said Robert Heller, CEO of Spectrum Gaming Capital. “They have too many assets. And they have now Tropicana, Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s, (and) that’s an awful lot of concentration in Atlantic City. So I think it’s a decent chance that they’ll sell one.”

Reeg suggested a property could be sold due to “anti-trust purposes.” New Jersey gaming regulators are bound by law to consider “undue economic concentration” when considering licensing approval of casino mergers and acquisitions.

A collection of photos from National Night Out events around South Jersey. 

Middle Township issues letter of support for medical marijuana proposal

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — After more than two hours of testimony — much of it from residents vehemently opposed to the idea — Township Committee on Monday unanimously approved issuing a letter of support to a proposal for medical marijuana facility on Indian Trail Road.

The letter is the first step in what promises to be a long process for Massachusetts-based Insa Inc. to build a new facility to grow and sell cannabis where there is now a long-vacant seafood processing plant.

The letter is part of the process of getting a New Jersey license as an alternative care center, the state’s classification for medical marijuana facilities.

The large property is assessed at more than $1 million. Insa CEO Mark Zatyrka said the company plans to spend about $10 million on a new building of 30,000 to 40,000 square feet. As proposed, marijuana plants would be grown inside under artificial light, dried and processed on site and sold to people with New Jersey medical marijuana cards from a dispensary on the property.

The company also plans to prepare marijuana edibles and other products there.

The project could mean 100 or more jobs in Middle Township. Zatyrka said most of those would go to local residents.

Many of the closest neighbors were not convinced.

Brandon and Tiffany Dunn’s farm is near the proposed location. They have young children, with another on the way, and worry about the increased traffic and potential for crime if the facility is built, they told committee members.

Most of the speakers had concerns about the proposal, peppering the committee and police Chief Christopher Leusner with questions about the potential for increased cases of intoxicated driving or of people trying to break into the facility.

The proposal calls for the demolition of the former La Monica Brands seafood plant, which has been vacant for years. If the state approves a license as part of an expansion of medical marijuana facilities, Insa’s plans would then go before the township Planning Board before construction could begin.

Mayor Tim Donohue said not everyone is going to agree with every decision.

“We’re looking at a site that’s been blighted for over a decade, that was in terrible condition when it was in operation and was a bad neighbor to all of those people there. We’re looking at putting in a brand-new business, creating 100 jobs, bringing relief to people who need this medical marijuana and doing it in a way that people will be safe,” Donohue said.

Not every speaker was against the proposal. The Middle Township Chamber of Commerce and the township Economic Development Committee have endorsed the plan. Hugh Giordano, a representative of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 152, said the proposal could bring good, high-paying jobs to the area.

Several residents spoke of the benefits of medical marijuana to some patients, and the distance needed to travel from Middle Township to reach the nearest facility in Egg Harbor Township.

Nina McCausland told committee members she loves the piano, but her arthritis is so severe she can’t play. She now uses CBD, a derivative of the marijuana plant that is available over the counter, which she said has helped enormously.

Two township police officers visited an Insa location in Massachusetts, as did Committeeman Michael Clark and township Administrator Kimberly Krauss. Leusner told residents he has reservations about allowing recreational marijuana but is not concerned about the Insa plan. He said he has not seen any reports of increased intoxicated driving from medical marijuana.

“I was quite satisfied with the presentation and with the facility and with this company,” Clark said. “I can’t speak for all companies and I can’t speak for all facilities, but I thought it was top-notch.”

Consensus elusive on changing Middle Township government

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — After nine months of work, an advisory committee charged with studying the best form of government for the township presented its findings to Township Committee on Monday without recommending any specific action.

Committeeman Ike Gandy said having a 10-year-old son was a big factor in his decision to support the project. He said from what he’s seen, school kids would not even know marijuana was grown at the site.

“From what I’ve seen so far, he wouldn’t even know it was there. He’d have a better chance of knowing that they canned clams or that we have a landfill in the middle of Burleigh Road,” Gandy said.

Some residents accused the committee members of already having their minds made up before hearing their input. Donohue said the township has been working on the proposal for a month but said the township publicized the meeting to get input.

“We weren’t required by law to have this public hearing or to do a press release or to post it on Facebook or to share it on our website. We wanted public input,” Donohue said.

At one point, he suggested that if residents are unhappy with the decisions made, they could vote the current members out of office and elect someone else.