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Manuel Balce Ceneta  

FILE — In this Nov. 27, 2018 file photo, National security adviser John Bolton speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington. Trump says he fired national security adviser John Bolton, says they ‘disagreed strongly’ on many issues. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


Casinos_tourism
Casino employment down over summer 2018

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino employment was down this summer compared to 2018, when the excitement and anticipation of two property openings pushed the total number of workers above the 30,000 mark for the first time in years.

The total average number of people employed by Atlantic City’s nine casinos during June, July and August was down nearly 3% in 2019 from the same period in 2018, figures released by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement show.

Furthermore, the number of full-time employees working at the casinos decreased by 2,300 in August from the previous year, while the number of part-time, seasonal and on-call employees increased.

The smaller workforce in 2019 is the result of several factors, including a casino market that has not grown despite the addition of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort in June 2018 and a “right-sizing” of the labor force after the two new casinos overstaffed for their respective openings.

Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University, said new properties typically need a “year or two” to stabilize in a new market.

“In terms of human capital, they will hire larger numbers initially often due to tight labor conditions, training needs and unknown business volume predictability,” Pandit said. “As training cycles are completed and the variables gain clarity, organizations will adjust to optimal levels of staffing based on operational demands. Which is perhaps why we are currently seeing a drop in the full-time employment numbers.”

The addition of Hard Rock and Ocean increased the supply of casino games, hotel rooms, food and beverage options, entertainment offerings and other nongaming amenities, but has yet to correlate to an increased market for Atlantic City. Quarterly reports for the industry have shown a decrease in operating profits across the industry since the two properties opened, a clear signal the market has not grown. Absent increased operating profits, casinos are often forced to make cuts in their two largest areas of spending: labor and marketing.

Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, the hospitality workers’ labor union that represents nearly one-third of Atlantic City casino employees, said the job figures were neither surprising nor concerning.

“Because of the increased competition, properties are going to look at ways to save some money because they’re going to project some revenue loss,” he said.

McDevitt said the city’s nine casino properties were hiring more of their seasonal workers earlier and keeping them employed longer than in previous years. As part of the industrywide labor agreement Local 54 has with the casinos, seasonal workers who are still employed on Oct. 15 become eligible for benefits comparable to those of full-time team members.

“The longer (the casinos) hang on to (seasonal and temporary workers) is a better indication of how the industry is doing,” McDevitt said. “If they hang on to them until the end (Oct. 15), then it means there is business to support it.”

Bob Ambrose, a former Atlantic City casino executive who is now an adjunct professor of casino management and an industry consultant, said staffing casino hotels is a “moving target,” as seasonal business and events dictate employment levels.

Ambrose echoed McDevitt’s thinking that the decrease seen this summer is not a cause for concern.

“Opening a new property, in Atlantic City’s case, two new properties, required above-average hiring,” Ambrose said. “Since these two properties opened just prior to the summer season, there was an additional reason to leverage the numbers of hires up for both gaming and nongaming. This year’s numbers reflect more of what we could say is a ‘traditional’ operating summer season, and the model, I am sure, was more strategically focused.”

Atlantic City’s casinos employed a total of 28,585 people in August, a decrease of 3.9% compared to the same month last year. Full-time employees were down 10.4%, while part-time employment increased by 154 and temporary, seasonal and on-call employees grew by 987.

Only Tropicana Atlantic City reported more employees in August 2019 (3,166) than last summer (3,144), but the property’s gains were mostly due to an increase in seasonal, temporary and on-call workers, referred to as “other” in the DGE data.

Both new properties reopened closed casinos — Hard Rock revamped the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, while Ocean breathed new life into the former Revel Casino Hotel — and were heralded for bringing new jobs to a region sorely in need of them after five casinos closed in a two-year span.

Hard Rock and Ocean are two of the larger casino properties in Atlantic City and employ the second- and third-most workers, respectively, in the industry, behind only Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

In July 2018, when total casino employment topped 30,000 for the first time in more than four years, the two resort properties accounted for 8,184 employees, or 27% of the industry. Hard Rock and Ocean employed 7,344 employees in July 2019, or 25% of the industry.

Both properties significantly reduced the total number of full-time employees this summer, which was not unexpected because of the staffing needs required to open a new property compared to operating one already in business. Hard Rock employed 877 fewer people in August this year compared to 2018, while Ocean’s full-time workers fell by 924.

Casino employment typically wanes in the shoulder months in Atlantic City, as properties need fewer workers for outside amenities, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotel operations. In 2018, the industry’s total employment decreased by nearly 900 workers from August to September, according to state gaming regulators.

The biggest jackpots scored at Atlantic City casinos in August

Business
Date of motorsports park's PILOT presentation unknown in Millville

MILLVILLE — The status of the New Jersey Motorsports Park’s request for a 10-year extension of its payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the city is unclear.

Last month, motorsports park officials said they would make a presentation to the public during the Sept. 3 City Commission meeting.

But in an Aug. 23 letter to city Solicitor Brock D. Russell, Brad Scott, the park’s president and chief operating officer, asked to delay the presentation.

The postponement would allow the park time to prepare documents for its economic impact study and the PILOT presentation, Scott wrote.

“These documents include the requested documents from the last commissioners meeting (Aug. 20), along with providing expert testimony from our support team, executive team, and NJMP ownership regarding the purpose for the PILOT extension request from NJMP,” Scott wrote.

Mayor Michael Santiago said Tuesday the motorsports park presentation has not been rescheduled.

“We are looking for a presentation,” said Santiago, who added the PILOT would not come up for a vote again without one. “They would need to come to us. The ball is in their court.”

City Administrator Regina Burke said the city clerk would know the items appearing on the Sept. 17 commission meeting agenda by Friday.

The park, which has operated since 2008 on Dividing Creek Road, has expressed interest in having its PILOT extended from 15 years to 25. Under the agreement, the park pays $175,000 a year in taxes to the city. The current agreement expires Dec. 31, 2023.

Representatives of the park did not return phone calls seeking comment on the delay or what would happen if the park did not receive the extension.

The proposed extension has not been popular with residents, some of whom have put up “No free ride for race track” signs on their lawns to voice their displeasure.

Opponents of the extension say the park did not produce the jobs it promised, and that the PILOT shortchanges the local school district.

Millville’s PILOT agreement with the motorsports park dates to 2007 and is based on the improvements at the track, so the school district does receive some tax revenue — $28,572 in 2018 — from the land, valued at just over $3 million.

The city received $107,501 between the PILOT — $63,884 — and the land taxes.

During the City Commission meeting of Aug. 20, the five-member commission unanimously voted down giving the motorsports park both a 15-year and a 10-year PILOT extension.

The vote against the 10-year PILOT extension was done with the understanding it could be put on a future agenda again for a first reading after the commission heard the motorsports park’s presentation.

More than 100 residents attended the meeting, a majority of whom were against granting a PILOT extension to the park.

Visitors to the park on a recent Saturday were much more supportive of the proposal.

Jay Fling, 70, of Pelham, New York, has been coming to the park every year since it opened.

“A national organization is bringing racing here, and if they make some improvements with this track, like a speaker system that works, that would be a big deal,” Fling said. “We follow motorcycle racing, and a lot of folks do, so if you could keep this track open, and get some tax incentive to make some improvements, this could be a major player.”

Joe Levine, 51, of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, has been to the motorsports park between 40 and 50 times since it opened. He has been riding since he was 13.

“It’s a good track, good amenities, good people ... good park, closer than Pocono for me,” Levine said. “It’s very important (to keep the park open), I think, just for the motorcycle rider in general.”

Karl Weis, 51, of Mullica Hill, Gloucester County, has been to the park a few times and ridden his entire life.

“It’s a place to hang out and join in the camaraderie of motorcyclists,” said Weis. “(It gives riders a place) to take their motorcycles and see what they can do, use the facility rather than using the street.”

PHOTOS: Hammonton's Gus Rodio races at New Jersey Motorsports Park

 

Residents opposed to a PILOT extension for the motorsports park cite a lack of local jobs and less money for the city school district.


Local
New Northfield bus shelters intended to protect those who served

NORTHFIELD — At first glance, the two green bus shelters on the north and south sides of New Road near Mill Road do not appear to be anything special.

But a group of more than 25 people including local and regional politicians and veterans gathered Wednesday for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting outside the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Community Based Outpatient Clinic tell a different story.

“This is just human dignity for our veterans who are coming to our city to go to the VA clinic, keeping the rain or snow off them while they wait for the bus or keeping them out of the sun while they wait on a hot summer day,” said Mayor Erland Chau. “I am just so glad that we were finally able to see this through.”

Across South Jersey, efforts have been made to increase access to care for veterans, who previously had to drive to the VA hospital in Delaware for services. Cape May County in February hired an architectural firm to renovate the former Kmart site in Middle Township into county offices and a new veterans clinic. The VA will pay $1.3 million toward renovations, then pay rent to the county for use of the space, according to county officials. The Cape clinic is expected to open next year.

In Atlantic County, the Vet Center, which provides free therapy and other mental health resources for combat veterans from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and Camden counties, relocated in June from Ventnor to a larger space in Egg Harbor Township.

The Northfield VA clinic provides outpatient care, including medical care, medication management, health care, lab services, mental and addiction and recovery services. It also acts as a transportation hub for shuttles and buses to take veterans to other VA and non-VA health care facilities through the Veterans Transportation Program.

Chau told the group gathered last week it took nearly three years to get the bus shelters at the Northfield clinic approved and built. He added they were funded through a state grant and are for use by anyone waiting for a bus, not just veterans.

His first battle came from the Northfield School District, where he faced opposition over the installation of a covered bus stop adjacent to school property near the intersection, even though NJ Transit buses had been stopping at that corner for more than 10 years at a traditional, non-covered stop. Several school board members said they feared undesirables would be attracted to the covered bus stop. The approval and easement from the school district came once it was agreed to have a fence surround the stop on three sides and block any access to school property.

Chau also had to seek approval from Dr. Morris Antebi because one of the stops is on his property. Next came approval from the state Department of Transportation because New Road is a state road.

“This is about access,” said Bob Frolow, Atlantic County veterans service officer. “This clinic is here to offer services to our veterans, and many of them use public transportation. This is just basic decency for our veterans.”

Frolow said there is a big push by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to tackle the problem of veterans suicide.

“We have guys that need the services offered here, including mental health services. Guys who are struggling need to come into the clinic, and they will find reasons not to come in, like rain or snow, and what happens? They stay home alone. That’s not helpful to them. Hopefully, they will know they are not going to be sitting in the rain waiting for a bus, and that is one wall that comes down for them. Every wall that comes down and gives vets better access is a big deal,” he said.

Cynthia Murray, director of the Community Based Outpatient Clinic, lamented the length of time it took for the bus stop to be approved and completed.

“It took three years to get this bus stop approved to help keep our veterans out of the weather. I am really glad our veterans, who volunteered to serve their country and protect all of us, did not wait three years to make their decision to serve in the military,” said Murray. “The Northfield site was chosen in large part because of the access to public transportation. Now, the veterans will be able to come and go to the clinic with a little more dignity knowing that the community cares and they will not have to wait unprotected from the rain, snow and heat. This is a big deal for our people.”

Staff Writer Lauren Carroll contributed to this report.


State
AP
SEPT. 11
At 9/11 memorial, new recognition for a longer-term toll

NEW YORK — When the names of nearly 3,000 Sept. 11 victims are read aloud Wednesday at the World Trade Center, a half-dozen stacks of stone will quietly salute an untold number of people who aren’t on the list.

The granite slabs were installed on the memorial plaza this spring. They recognize an initially unseen toll of the 2001 terrorist attacks: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

The unusual addition reflects a memorial that is evolving as the aftermath of 9/11 does. And for families like Joanna Reisman’s, the new 9/11 Memorial Glade gives their loved ones a place in the landscape of remembrance at ground zero.

A firefighter’s widow, she emphasizes that the losses thousands of families suffered on Sept. 11 were horrific.

“We just have to recognize that there were others, too,” says Reisman, whose 54-year-old husband, Lt. Steven Reisman, searched through the World Trade Center debris for remains, and then died in 2014 of brain cancer. He was 54.

Subtle and sculptural, the memorial glade features six stone pieces inlaid with salvaged trade center steel. They jut from the ground along a tree-lined pathway.

Unlike the plaza’s massive waterfall pools memorializing people killed on 9/11 — those whose names are read at anniversary ceremonies — the boulders are not inscribed with the names of those they honor. There is no finite list of them, at least not yet.

Instead, nearby signs dedicate the glade “to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death,” including first responders, recovery workers, survivors and community members at the attack sites at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The collapse of the trade center’s twin towers produced thick dust clouds, and fires burned for months in the rubble.

Many rescue and recovery workers later developed respiratory and digestive system ailments potentially linked to inhaled and swallowed dust. Some were diagnosed with other illnesses, including cancer.

Research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins. A 2018 study did not find higher-than-normal death rates overall among people exposed to the dust and smoke, but researchers have noted more deaths than expected from brain cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and certain other diseases; and an unusual number of suicides among rescue and recovery workers. Studies also have suggested that highly exposed workers may face more problems, including somewhat higher death rates and a modestly higher risk of heart trouble, than less-exposed colleagues.

Over 51,000 people have applied to a victims compensation fund that makes payments to people with illnesses potentially related to 9/11; it has awarded over $5.5 billion so far. After impassioned advocacy, lawmakers this summer ensured it won’t run out of money.

None of that was foreseen when the memorial design was chosen in January 2004. But the selection jury “knew that we’d be picking something that allowed for an evolution of the site,” says member James E. Young, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst professor.

As attention grew to the deaths of ailing 9/11 rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, some memorials elsewhere began adding their names. A remembrance wall focused on them was dedicated in 2011 in Nesconset, Long Island.

But the trade center memorial has a “responsibility — especially where it’s located, on sacred ground — to continue to tell the story,” says John Feal, who lost part of a foot while working as a demolition supervisor there and later founded a charity that maintains the Nesconset memorial.

Ground zero memorial leaders had misgivings at first, memorial CEO Alice Greenwald says. They noted that the health problems were documented in the below-ground Sept. 11 museum, though it gets far fewer visitors than the memorial plaza. And the leaders felt protective of the memory of people killed on 9/11.

Responders and health advocates “could see what we couldn’t see right away ... that this was really something that needed to be commemorated, as much as documented,” Greenwald said.

Plans for the $5 million glade, designed by memorial plaza architects Michael Arad and Peter Walker, were ultimately announced in 2017.

The traditional image of a memorial is an immutable tribute, literally written in stone — if also potentially susceptible to shifting views of its subject, as demonstrated by ongoing debate over Confederate statues around the American South.

But sometimes monuments adapt to take on more meanings.

Some memorials built after one war get expanded or rededicated to include veterans of other wars. A memorial to victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was destroyed on 9/11, and their names were included in the current memorial.

After the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built in Washington, additions nearby recognized nurses and other women who served, and veterans who died years later from lasting effects of the defoliant Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder or other injuries that initially weren’t recognized.

Such memorials speak to a change over time in how, and whom, monuments commemorate, said Kirk Savage, a University of Pittsburgh art and architecture history professor and memorials expert.

Rather than a 19th-century leader on a pedestal, newer memorials often acknowledge everyday people’s involvement in historic events and shift focus “from recognizing people that we emulate to people that we grieve for,” he said.

Caryn Pfeifer has had many people to grieve for over the past 18 years.

First there were the colleagues and friends whom her husband, firefighter Ray Pfeifer, lost on 9/11 and whose remains he sought in the debris. Then there were those who got sick and died over the years, as he fought for health care for first responders while battling his own kidney cancer.

Now she also mourns her husband. He died in 2017, at 59.

With the new memorial glade, she says, “now we have a place to go and sit, think about everybody, and just pray for the next poor guy.”