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Myung J. Chun  

FILE — In this Oct. 3, 1995, file photo, O.J. Simpson reacts as he is found not guilty in the death of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in Los Angeles. Defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, left, and Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. stand with him. Cochran, Simpson’s flamboyant lead attorney, died of brain cancer in 2005 at 68. His refrain to jurors that “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” sought to underscore that the bloody gloves found at Simpson’s home and the crime scene were too small for football legend when he tried them on in court. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

Sea Isle City weighs how much to spend to renovate former school

SEA ISLE CITY — Residents on Tuesday got their first detailed look at a proposed multimillion-dollar renovation to the former public school at 4501 Park Road.

City Community Services Director Katherine Custer presented three options a committee has recommended for the future use of the building, with costs ranging from less than $2 million to 10 times that.

The first option, the cheapest, is to renovate the existing building. That did not seem popular.

There seemed to be a strong consensus to demolish the existing building and build anew. The biggest question for City Council and for the residents who weighed in Tuesday was whether to spend the additional money to include a pool.

Speakers at the meeting were divided, with advocates saying a pool would be an asset to the town and help keep families as residents, while others worried about the cost.

The issue also divided the 10-member committee established to advise council on the matter. Members were unanimous that the former school should be demolished but divided on the issue of the pool, with two members opposed, six in favor and two more willing to accept the pool only if the money would not hurt other recreation programs.

A new building with office space, room for programs, a new gymnasium with bleachers and a second floor, built to meet current flood standards, would cost $13 million to $16 million, according to Custer’s presentation.

A third option that includes all of that plus a six-lane pool kicks the cost up to $17 million to $20 million, depending on the final scope of the work, she said.

In addition, hiring the needed staff and maintaining a pool would cost $500,000 to $1 million a year, Custer said.

Like the advisory committee, members of the public seemed divided between passionate advocates for a pool and those concerned about the cost.

“What a pain in the you-know-what. And the expense. So I’d recommend against it,” said David Cohan, who owns a facility with an indoor pool. “You will always have problems with the pool.”

City Business Administrator George Savastano, who also serves as Ocean City’s business administrator and was involved in the recent extensive renovation to that city’s pool, said he is well aware of the difficulties involved with a public pool.

Several speakers said they take their children or belong themselves to the fitness center in Ocean City, which includes use of the pool. They said they’d much rather stay in Sea Isle and argued a pool would attract both families with children and seniors.

“That’s all well and good about having people come, but I don’t see enough parking if you’re going to have swim teams and a lot of people coming from the outside to use this facility,” said neighbor Jan Craine. “We don’t have enough parking as it is for the people who live there.”

Rose Mary Feola said she has wanted a municipal pool in Sea Isle since her children were small. They are now grown.

“Two of my children decided to live elsewhere because there’s nothing here for them. It broke my heart,” she said. “My oldest is marrying next Saturday and hopes to raise his children here. I have been fighting for a rec center since he was born.”

Resident Ed Nicholanco said his concern is for nonresident property owners, who will pay most of the cost of the project. He suggested the city try to get input from those property owners.

The next step will be another public meeting, this time on a Saturday morning, to allow for more input from nonresident property owners. Details on that meeting will be announced, Savastano said.

The former kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school closed in June 2012. All Sea Isle students now attend Ocean City schools. The building then served as temporary municipal and police offices after Hurricane Sandy while work continued on the multimillion-dollar municipal building where Tuesday’s meeting took place. Once that building opened in 2016, the former school became the recreation center, as well as additional office space and storage.

The existing building needs a new HVAC system, windows and doors, ramps, gymnasium and bathrooms that comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. On a recent visit, a trash can in the center of the gym collected water dripping from the roof after the morning’s rain.

The cheapest option would be renovating the existing building, which was built in 1971. Because it does not meet current flood standards, the city could not spend more than half the value of the building without being obliged to bring the facility up to code. That would mean lifting the building a few feet, which Savastano said would not make sense.

That means the city could not spend more than $2 million on renovations, Custer said.

Members of the advisory committee, and residents at the morning meeting, did not seem to consider this a reasonable option.

PHOTOS from Sea Isle City's Easter celebration

Gov. Murphy signs hotel panic button bill in Atlantic City

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signing legislation into law that mandates hotels provide panic buttons for housekeepers to protect them against violence, sexual assault and harassment in the workplace at Avalon Ballroom, Harrah's Resort Atlantic City Tuesday June 11, 2019. The bill was pushed by housekeepers from Unite Here Local 54 the casino workers' union. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Iris Sanchez has never personally experienced violence or sexual harassment while on the job as a housekeeper at Caesars Atlantic City, but she feels safer today after New Jersey became the first state to mandate hotels provide emergency buttons to employees.

“It means a whole lot,” Sanchez, 40, said outside a ballroom at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center where Gov. Phil Murphy had just signed the new law Tuesday morning. “I know I’m going to be able to go home at the end of the day.”

Murphy signed legislation that requires hotels throughout the state with more than 100 rooms to provide housekeepers with a panic button device.

While speaking at an AFL-CIO conference, Murphy said the law will provide hotel workers with “greater security” and allow them to “immediately call for help, should they need it on the job.”

“We must protect the safety of workers in the hospitality industry,” Murphy said. “This new law will ensure that hotel employees performing their duties will have the means to summon immediate assistance if they are in danger.”

Atlantic County’s three state representatives were all sponsors of the legislation.

“I’m glad my colleagues joined me in answering the call of our local families, so we can take a bi-partisan step forward to provide a simple common sense method to protect our hardworking women and men in the hospitality industry,” said state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic.

The bill passed unanimously through both the state Senate and Assembly in May.

“We all have to be safe when we go to work,” said Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic.

Housekeepers are often the first hotel employees to come across an emergency situation, such as smoke from a fire or a guest who is dealing with a medical issue, Armato said.

“It’s not just for their safety, it’s for the safety of the whole hotel itself,” he said.

Unite Here Local 54, the casino workers union that represents nearly one-third of the industry, was a driving force behind the legislation. There are nearly 2,000 hotel housekeepers in Atlantic City.

Local 54 members from each of the nine Atlantic City casino hotel properties joined Murphy on stage for the bill signing.

“I am so proud that my union was able to change the workplaces for all women in hotels and hospitality here, not only for union workers. Because of this new law, non-union workers in New Jersey who do not have any bargaining power over their working conditions will be covered, too, and their employers will be required to give them safety buttons to stay safe at work,” Sanchez said.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, commended Local 54 members for their efforts.

“They were in lockstep with us on the path with this bill,” he said. “It wasn’t easy ... but having their support helped really push it along.”

Hotels that do not comply with the law will be fined up to $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each additional violation, according to the legislation.

The move to provide employees with panic buttons is happening nationally, with big hotel chains like Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Wyndham vowing to provide personal safety devices by 2020 to all their employees who deal one on one with guests.

Stockton conference highlights resilience in face of violence against religious people

Attendees to Stockton and Rutgers' conference on resilience in the face of religious violence saw religious leaders and law enforcement convene in Atlantic City to discuss prevention and the severity of the issue.

ATLANTIC CITY — Rabbi Francine Roston moved from New Jersey to Whitefish, Montana, in 2014.

A few years later, an argument between a Jewish Realtor there and the mother of Richard Spencer — a white nationalist leader and a Whitefish resident — prompted Andrew Anglin, publisher of the white supremacist forum Daily Stormer, to direct threats and hate toward the area’s minuscule Jewish population.

Even with the worst of the online harassment behind them, armed security now accompanies Jewish community events in the area, Roston said.

“Our lives will never be the same,” Roston said. “We live with the effects of trauma and fear every day.”

Roston was Tuesday’s keynote speaker at a conference bringing together leaders of many faiths in the Fannie Lou Hamer event room at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus. The two-day event, which continues Wednesday, is focused on resilience amid a sharp rise in violence aimed at members of religious groups in recent years.

The conference, titled “Building Resilience in the New Threat Paradigm: Targeted Violence Against People of Faith,” also features talks from law-enforcement, state and federal officials.

In 2013, 17.4% of 5,922 “single-bias” hate crimes in the United States had a religious motivation, FBI statistics show. In 2017, 22% of 7,106 “single-bias” hate crimes had a religious motivation. Shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and a bombing at a Catholic church in Sri Lanka on Easter drove home the reality of radicalization.

“Four years ago, we would not have drawn a crowd like this. ... We have people from Europe, from the United States,” said John Farmer, professor of law and executive director of the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University. “When we started this work, there was just this dawning recognition there was a problem. And what we’ve seen ... unfortunately flourish in those four years is this spread of these hateful ideologies of all different kinds of extremism, and the willingness of people to act on them.”

The increase in violence and hateful threats like the ones levied at Roston means law enforcement must be proactive, looking for signs of budding bigotry and potential powder kegs of online hate. As Roston noted, some Whitefish locals took part in the harassment, but the majority of the calls and messages they received were from around the country.

“When people say, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ It’s those homegrown, violent extremists, it’s terrorists,” said Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Our partnerships, both here and abroad, are key to making sure we all get a good night’s rest.”

Underscoring the day’s topic, Stockton police Sgt. Tracy Stuart and her explosive-sniffing partner, Hemi, a chocolate Labrador, walked the perimeter of the school building during Tuesday’s keynote.

Inside, attendees listened intently to talks on prevention and resilience in the face of hate. The sharp uptick in “religious tension and in sectarian violence” infects everything, said Michelle McDonald, chief officer for academic programming and associate vice president of academic affairs at Stockton.

“This aftermath has shaped all aspects of our lives: where we live, how we travel, what events we choose to attend, what schools we choose to enroll in, and most importantly for this conference, where and how we worship,” McDonald said.

No one can claim ignorance, Roston said, and religious people cannot rely totally on law enforcement.

“We must do everything we can to secure our houses of worship, to train our congregations on security and to have these difficult conversations,” she said. “No one can say, ‘It can’t happen to us.’”

Tyler Osborne-Lomax contributed to this report.

Casino Control Commission approves Tropicana deal

ATLANTIC CITY — State gaming regulators on Tuesday approved Eldorado Resorts Inc. as the new parent company of Tropicana Atlantic City.

Following a nearly two-hour hearing, the Casino Control Commission granted Eldorado a plenary license as a casino holding company, finalizing the Reno, Nevada-based gaming firm’s first entry into Atlantic City.

The approval of Eldorado as an Atlantic City casino operator also sets the stage for a potential regulatory hurdle in the future should the company finalize a deal with Caesars Entertainment Corp. to combine the two.

If a deal is struck between Eldorado and Caesars, the company would hold four of the nine casino licences in Atlantic City, putting the Casino Control Act’s provision regarding “undue economic concentration” to the test.

Commissioner Sharon Harrington asked Eldorado CEO Thomas Reeg about the company’s plans for future acquisitions, specifically referencing media reports of discussions with Caesars.

“I can’t comment on a particular (move),” he said. “I would say we have been an inquisitive company in the past. To the extent there are opportunities that make sense for our shareholders ... we would take a hard look at those.”

Reeg said he understood that as acquisition deals get larger “there are a host of concerns that other constituencies would have,” but that Eldorado would “thoughtfully work through them.”

Billionaire Wall Street investor Carl Icahn, who sold Tropicana Entertainment to Eldorado last year, has a nearly 29% ownership stake in Caesars.

In 2018, Tropicana Entertainment sold its real estate holdings to Gaming and Leisure Properties for $1.21 billion and merged its gaming and hotel operations into Eldorado Resorts, which will lease the sold properties for $640 million.

Under the lease structure, Tropicana Atlantic City is projected to pay the highest amount because the property is the highest net revenue generator in Eldorado’s portfolio.

Eldorado operates casino hotels in 12 states: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia.

CCC Chairman James Plousis said he expected Eldorado to “positively contribute to this market and support Atlantic City’s continued upward trajectory.”

Plousis said he looked forward to seeing the benefits of Eldorado’s ability to increase visitation to Atlantic City due to cross-marketing with the company’s other properties.

“A significant part of Atlantic City’s future is the ability of the gaming industry to grow its customer base and thereby bring new customers to the market,” he said.

Tropicana Atlantic City is the second-highest gaming-revenue producing property in the market, behind Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Steve Callender, who stayed with Tropicana Atlantic City after the sale and was promoted to senior vice president of regional operations for Eldorado, said the new owners have committed to the property by investing in capital projects, such as the nearly $10 million William Hill sportsbook, and other infrastructure improvements throughout the casino hotel.

While acknowledging the market has been “challenging” since the arrival of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort last summer, Callender said Tropicana and Eldorado are in a good position.

“Tropicana is built to compete,” Callender said. “With the money we’ve invested over the last five or six years, from a diversification standpoint, we outpoint every casino in Atlantic City. There’s just more to do here, more to see and more to be involved with.”

Anthony Carano, president and chief operating officer of Eldorado, said Tropicana Atlantic City has the company’s “full attention.”

Asked by CCC Vice Chairwoman Alisa Cooper what attracted him to Atlantic City, the grandson of Eldorado’s founder said the resort’s history and significance in the gaming industry were powerful draws.

“It’s an honor and a big day for us to get our gaming license in Atlantic City,” Carano said.