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Missamerica
Does Atlantic City miss Miss America?

ATLANTIC CITY — Around here, the week after Labor Day has always meant more than the ceremonial end of summer. This week has always been “pageant week.”

There’s been a few exceptions, most notably the span between 2005 and 2013 when the Miss America Competition left for the deserts of Nevada. But for most of its near-century of existence, the pageant has taken over Atlantic City around this time, starting with a welcoming ceremony at Kennedy Plaza a couple of days after Labor Day and wrapping up about 10 days later with the winner splashing around in the surf the Monday morning after her crowning.

During that time, Atlantic City would be the epicenter of the pageant world.


What will Atlantic City do to replace Miss America?

But after months of speculation, the Miss America Organization announced in July that the 2020 competition would be held not in post-Labor Day Atlantic City, but in December at Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut.

So, as you can imagine, it’s been a little quiet around here.

“September isn’t the same,” said Alice Nekuda, of North Platte, Nebraska, in a Miss America Fan Facebook group.

The Miss America Competition wasn’t just a televised tradition held at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, but a convention or reunion for thousands of pageant fans and volunteers.

The seats at the historic convention hall would fill up quickly with men and women carrying signs and wearing buttons in support of their state titleholder. Stacks of program books would disappear as the crowd worked its way to the hall and young women who hoped one day to be on the stage snapped selfies with one another, showing off their local-pageant sashes and crowns.

Now, those pageant faithful are having to come up with alternative plans.

“I’m a teacher. This is the first year in many years I will be in school for the first week, as I have always gone to Miss A,” said Michael Terragnoli, president and co-executive director of the Miss Buffalo Competition.

Terragnoli plans on going to the Miss America 2020 Competition in Connecticut, but many fans have said the timing and location of this year’s pageant will have them watching from home.

“I have traveled to A.C. every year for the past several years for Miss America,” said Rachael Soesbe, of DeWitt, Iowa. “I’m sad to say, I don’t foresee a trip back to A.C. without Miss America being there.”

The latest breakup between resort and pageant was over finances. Over six years, The Miss America Organization received more than $20 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, as well as several thousand free and discounted rooms and suites, meals and transportation.

But when the CRDA did not renew the subsidy contract following last year’s competition, the fate of the pageant appeared uncertain, until the announcement.

Despite the absence of Miss America, Atlantic City wasn’t in mourning.

On Saturday, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City’s Celebrate America Parade hosted some familiar faces.

Miss America 1984 and Atlantic County native Suzette Charles served as grand marshal of the parade, with several Miss America 2020 candidates riding along the route as well. But rather than sparkly shoes and campy costumes, this Boardwalk parade focused on military veterans, first responders and hometown heroes with the general theme of patriotism.

“It’s a good thing to keep the tradition of having a parade,” said Charles. “Atlantic City has a lot of tourist attractions for people to see and great entertainment. This parade is for the community at the end of the summer season — it brings people together.”

GALLERY: Miss America 'Show Us Your Shoes' Parade

Food-access
Atlantic City is getting a supermarket. Can the resort keep it?

ATLANTIC CITY — Sylvester Showell sometimes has to make three stops to get all of the groceries he needs.

Often, he leaves the city to visit a neighboring town’s supermarket.

Showell, the president of the city’s Third Ward Civic Association, said he does it all using public transportation. And it’s a hassle.

“You can only carry but so many things when you’re on public transportation, which, the majority of people in Atlantic City, that’s what they do,” said Showell, 73. “If they don’t have a car, they either walk to Renaissance (Plaza) or they take the 505 bus to Ventnor Heights.”

Showell said there were multiple grocery stores in the city when he first moved here 39 years ago. There hasn’t been a proper supermarket for 15 years, and Atlantic City has been repeatedly labeled a food desert because of it. That lack was one of the main faults listed by Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy, in his 2018 report on getting the city back to financial independence.

If everything goes according to plan, though, a proposed ShopRite could ease Showell’s headaches. A number of hurdles will need to be navigated to make that a reality, though.

On Aug. 20, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority board voted to certify Village Super Market, which operates 30 ShopRites across four states, as the developer and operator of a new 40,000-square-foot grocery store at Baltic and Indiana avenues. There is no official groundbreaking date, but officials estimate the store — which will cost about $13.5 million to build — should take 13 months to build.

City officials see it as a win, even before the groundbreaking.

“To have ShopRite say it’s willing to be in the City of Atlantic City sends a deeper ripple effect than we can imagine,” said Mayor Frank Gilliam at the meeting. “It’s something the community has wanted for a long, long time. The community should have a right to have a supermarket to eat and live in dignity.”

Concerns from residents will need to be addressed to make sure the store stays in the city.

One location in a low-income area in Jersey City has rotated through multiple grocery store brands that all saw similar life cycles, said Mayor Steven Fulop. Unsupported by the city, the operators pushed the shelf lives of things like meat, eggs and produce. Customers caught on and stopped patronizing the locations, and the stores went into a “death spiral,” he said.

“I think it’s really important that the city invests its own resources out of the gate to help customers get there and shop there,” Fulop said.

In Atlantic City, reliable transportation to and from the location is chief among residents’ concerns, as many in the resort, like Showell, don’t own cars. CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said the agency has discussed reaching out to NJ Transit to alter a bus route to go directly to the store.

According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by datausa.io, the average household in Atlantic City owns one car, compared with two cars statewide.

Beyond public transit, Showell worries the boxed-in plot could cause congestion for motorists.

“You have Ohio Avenue, which is one way. You have Indiana Avenue, which is one way. You have Baltic Avenue, which is one way leading out of town,” he said.

Safety for shoppers is another top concern for residents. Loiterers and panhandlers outside the Save-A-Lot discount store on Atlantic Avenue can leave some shoppers feeling harassed.

Residents shouldn’t look to the city to provide security at the ShopRite, said Ruan Pugh, 40, Showell’s son and vice president of the Third Ward Civic Association. The onus should be on the supermarket.

“Who wants to be bothered with that vagrancy every time you go into that store? It’s such a headache to have to deal with the riffraff and nonsense,” Pugh said. “And I know it’s in the process of being worked on, but it’s still a hassle, especially for my parents, who are much older. I don’t want them to be subjected to that.”

The last grocery store in the city closed largely due to vagrancy and theft.

“It starts with the supermarket itself,” Pugh said. “If you don’t have quality security in and around that supermarket, it’s gonna turn into a slum area.”

Doherty said ShopRite is up to the task.

“ShopRite will be responsible for providing comprehensive and complete security both in the building and on the premises,” he said. “We’ve discussed this with them. They understand that it’s important as well, and they don’t see any problems with providing a level of security that will make people feel very comfortable going into their store.”

Atlantic City isn’t the only town bringing a ShopRite to a neighborhood in need of a full-service grocery store.

Jersey City is weighing a tax abatement for a ShopRite set to open on the west side of the city. It could be worth the stability and jobs the store would bring, Fulop said.

Likewise, in Atlantic City, the supermarket could provide an economic boost. CRDA has floated the idea of leasing the land to Village Super Market for a dollar a year.

Village Super Market is considering building up at the location to accommodate a sit-down restaurant, job training site and a micro-fulfillment center that would use robotics to carry out online orders, said Walt West, director for sustainable food systems for Uplift Solutions, which consulted the city on the project. Of the roughly 125 jobs that will be created by the ShopRite’s opening, 75% will go to low or unskilled workers, CRDA Vice Chairman Richard Tolson said. And 89% of employees would be covered by unions and paid a living wage with paid vacation, sick and personal days, and health coverage.

To keep those jobs in the city, Village Supermarkets and CRDA will have to find a way to make the location profitable. An attorney representing Village Supermarkets said in August the location will lose roughly $115,000 a year.

That is among the wrinkles that need to be ironed out to keep the supermarket in Atlantic City for the long haul. Being able to get all of their groceries in one place, quickly and conveniently, would make a world of difference for residents, Pugh said.

“It would almost change the game,” he said, laughing. “We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

54 ways (and counting) Atlantic City can reinvent itself

VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press  

The Miss America Competition may not be in town this weekend, but there was still a parade. Veterans, first responders, floats, balloons and marching bands took to the Boardwalk on Saturday afternoon for the first Celebrate America Parade, organized by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. See more photos on A3 and at PressofAC.com.


Andrew Vaughan  

Waves crash into boats long the waterfront in Halifax, Nova Scotia as hurricane Dorian approaches on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Weather forecasters say Hurricane Dorian is picking up strength as it approaches Canada. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press via AP)


Local
Residents, officials weigh in on community policing efforts in Atlantic City

Meet the officers of Atlantic City’s Neighborhood Coordination Unit

ATLANTIC CITY — Less than four months after a new unit of city police officers hit the streets to focus on quality-of-life issues, residents and officials are seeing a positive impact.

“When we call, they are here for us all the time,” said Margarita Rivera, a cashier at Boom Food Market. “We hope they continue. We want to clean up this neighborhood.”

The neighborhood coordination officers, or NCOs, started in May after officials assigned two officers to each of the city’s six political wards and four to community outreach. Part of a policing initiative to increase safety in the city while building up the relationship between officers and the community, it was funded by $7.5 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

“We want tourists and residents to feel safe and comfortable in Atlantic City,” Rivera said as she stood behind the counter of the Ventnor Avenue store in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. “We need to work together. Safety is the most important thing.”

So far this summer, officers have attended civic meetings in their assigned wards and hosted neighborhood gatherings that included cookouts, raffles and games.

At a recent Boardwalk Committee meeting, residents and officials spoke about the impact of the unit on the community.

Tom Lamaine, committee chairman, said the officers are doing a “tremendous” job.

“Success like this can go a long way in adding more officers,” Lamaine said. “Of course, CRDA has to be on board with this.”

CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty said the authority hasn’t gotten a request for additional officers.

“From all indications, the neighborhood coordination officers are doing an outstanding job, as was expected, and we are proud to support them in the job they do ensuring safety in Atlantic City,” he said.

Officers at the meeting said the department is working to expand the unit, adding more officers to cover more shifts, but they are working on the costs associated with it. Currently, both officers in each ward work a day shift, but the hours are flexible to attend evening and weekend events and meetings in each neighborhood.

Lt. Wilber Santiago, the unit’s commander, said at the meeting the officers are also focusing on homeless outreach, connecting those in need to services.

“They’re out there every day dealing with things some people don’t want to deal with,” Santiago said. “They’re out there every day trying to make a difference a different way.”

Community Outreach Officers Jose Gonzales and Robert Nawrocki said they try to help homeless and addicted populations get off the beach and Boardwalk, whether that means giving them a ride to the bus station or connecting them with rehabilitation programs.

The last option the officers have is to write tickets, enforcing ordinances in the city and going through the court system, they said.

Carol Ruffu, president of the Chelsea Neighborhood Association, said the officers are working very well in the 5th and 6th wards.

The officers have been helping mainly with quality-of-life issues, she said, including working with residents to clear debris and “keeping a handle” on rental properties that cause congestion and noise on the weekends.

“They’re going above and beyond what they really need to do,” she said, adding that Officer Albert Herbert has met with her to go over reports about what has been accomplished.

The unit’s community events were all well-attended and made possible through collaboration with local businesses and community fundraisers, Capt. Lee Hendricks said, adding they’re going to take what they have learned this year and apply it going forward.

“They came online right in the middle of the summer,” Hendricks said. “Basically, it was being thrown out of an airplane at 30,000 feet, and they hit the ground running.”

Look back at Atlantic City Police Department 1990s