A1 A1
Edward Lea  

CAL Swimming Championships at Atlantic City High School Thursday Jan 30, 2020. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

top story
'We need to revitalize' Atlantic City, casino execs say

ATLANTIC CITY — Casino executives are calling on the stakeholders involved in the city’s ongoing revitalization to do more to help grow the seaside resort and improve its poor perception.

During a wide-ranging discussion with six of the city’s casino executives at an annual forum, hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber at the Atlantic City Sheraton Convention Center Hotel, the industry leaders said current efforts by the city, state and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority are falling short.

“We need help from the city and the state, obviously,” said Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts. “We need boots on the ground, as far as I’m concerned.”

Matt Doherty, executive director of the CRDA, said the state agency has committed nearly $3 million annually toward increasing public safety through the hiring of police officers. He also said the CRDA has partnered with both Jewish Family Service and Volunteers of America to provide additional social services to those in need.

Doherty also said the CRDA is embarking on a rooming house conversion program, has assisted city code enforcement to address blight and funded projects such as an AtlantiCare expansion and the development of a ShopRite.

“Prior to me becoming executive director (in 2018), I agree with many of their comments,” Doherty said after the panel. “There was an (Office of Legislative Services) audit that showed support for their comments as well. Our focus at CRDA, now, has been, in the last two years and going forward, solely spending money in Atlantic City to benefit the residents.”

Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, agreed with the other executives that the market needs to differentiate itself from nearby competition by providing more nongaming amenities for visitors, which has been a market focus for the past several years.

But the overall goal of increasing visitors, and thereby profits, is stifled, he said, by what takes place outside the casinos.

“Our buildings can’t be surrounded by drug addicts and prostitutes, the lights need to work, the Boardwalk needs to be fixed, the beaches need to be replenished,” Lupo said to applause from the local business owners in the room. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the city. ... We need to revitalize the city, because it just hasn’t been done in the past.”

Reiterating a point he made last year at the same event, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa President and Chief Operating Officer Marcus Glover said, “Stability in local government and cleanup of the city is vital” to Atlantic City’s success.

“I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet of one or two menu items. I think there’s a combination and a string of events that need to happen,” Glover said. “There’s still a lot of blight, even though there’s progress being made on the blight ... but we’ve got to get some wins” to generate positive attention.

Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, said the Tourism District — an area under the control of the CRDA that includes the Boardwalk, downtown business district and Marina District — is in need of attention.

“I think we would all agree, over the decades, that we are not pleased with where we are with the Tourism District,” Giannantonio said. ‘If we could all wake up tomorrow and the Tourism District was something other than it is today, ridden of crime and the things that were already mentioned (by Lupo), there may be a lift in this market of 20% to 30%, easily.”

Ron Baumann, regional president for Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s three Atlantic City properties, said that despite “ample opportunity” to address many of the city’s underlying problems, the area around the casinos looks “the same as when I left here 10 years ago.” Baumann said “alignment and action” from the various stakeholders is needed to get things moving forward.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the comments Thursday from the casino executives were another “attempt to indirectly sway voters for the change of government” effort. That effort is being led by the head of the casino workers union, Bob McDevitt, and aided by Morris Bailey, owner of Resorts, and former state Sen. Ray Lesniak. A citywide special election to vote on the change of government is scheduled for March 31.

“I’m not interested in solving problems in the media,” Small said. “I’m about solutions. The residents of Atlantic City believe the casinos could do more to contribute, but we will save that for another day.”

Small went on to say his administration is “committed to safe and clean, and we’ve shown that in a big way. I’ve been the mayor for a little over three months, and we are doing a great job. I will address this personally at (the next) Casino Association meeting.”

Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort, pushed back against her colleagues, saying the negative talk contributes to the overall perception of the city. She said correcting the city’s issues should be their “homework, not the billboard.”

“We need to stop perpetuating (the negative perception),” she said. “There’s so many positive things happening in Atlantic City, and we need to be shouting them from the rooftop.”

Caesars, Harrah’s and Bally’s Atlantic City celebrate the Lunar New Year

breaking top story
Egg Harbor Township family offering $10K for info in son's murder

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The family of Arty Barrera, who was shot dead in his home Jan. 2, is hoping a $10,000 reward will lead to an arrest in the case.

Art and Marlene Barrera met in the law office of their sister-in-law, Alexa D’Amato Barrera, along with Atlantic County Crime Stoppers’ Cindy Balles and several family members and friends Thursday to announce the reward and share more information about their son’s life.

“Arty was a kind, loving son, brother, grandson, friend,” Art Barrera said. “His whole future was ahead of him, and he was special.”

Arturo “Arty” Barrera III, 24, was found with multiple gunshot wounds in his home in the 100 block of Vermont Avenue.

No arrests have been made, and authorities said this appears to be an isolated incident. Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Donna Weaver said she could not comment on the ongoing investigation or the reward.

During Thursday’s announcement, Art Barrera shared stories of Arty’s love of extreme sports and fast cars, and his passion for auto mechanics and body work.

Arty was an Egg Harbor Township High School graduate who worked on cars for a living. He was well known locally among the BMX and skateboarding communities.

Art Barrera said that in the weeks since his son’s death, the family has been wrapped in “a warm blanket of love” from those who knew Arty.

“It helped us through the last several weeks, and it continues,” Barrera said. “We can’t bring our son back, but we can help bring his killer to justice.”

Marlene Barrera, holding back tears, said she was confident someone knows something about the death of her son and urged anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers.

Balles said calls to Crime Stoppers are anonymous and that the reward will help solicit information from the community.

“I truly believe that the killer will be found,” she said.

The reward will be available to the tipster or tipsters who provides information that leads to an arrest and indictment.

The reward information also will be posted on a billboard on the White Horse Pike and is being shared on justiceforart.com.

Anyone with information about the shooting can call the Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800, visit acpo.org/tips, call Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234 or 800-658-8477, or visit crimestoppersatlantic.com.

Margate man charged in beating of Bobby Woods released from jail

MAYS LANDING — A pair of blood-stained jeans without a motive is not enough to hold Robert T. Woods Jr. in jail until trial in the golf-club bludgeoning of his father, his lawyer argued Thursday morning.

Woods Jr., 45, was ordered released from jail to home detention Wednesday by Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Donna M. Taylor even though Assistant Prosecutor Deirdre Laws said he could be a danger to his father and the community.

He is charged with two counts of aggravated assault, endangering an injured victim, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and possession of a weapon in the Jan. 21 beating of former professional baseball player Bobby Woods in the Margate home the father and son share. Woods Sr. has been reported in critical condition.

As conditions for his release, Woods Jr. will undergo electronic monitoring in his mother’s Egg Harbor Township residence, must report to the court by phone and in person each month and is barred from contact with his father and several other family members.

“There’s zero motive in the case because the son and father get along famously,” said Mark Roddy, Woods Jr.’s lawyer. “Actually, it’s almost like they’re joined at the hip. The only evidence that they have is a pair of jeans that are conveniently left with blood on them in the kitchen so that the first person who walks into the house has to see them immediately.”

Woods Jr. sat, shackled in an orange county jail jumpsuit, revealing no emotion but conferring with Roddy from time to time during the half hour hearing.

“Does it make him a suspect? Yes,” Roddy said. “Does it mean that there’s probable cause to arrest him, based on that — no video, no witnesses, no witness recollection, no statement of the accused, no motive whatsoever? I don’t think so.”

Authorities, who found the bloodied golf club and pants in the home, allege Woods Jr. bludgeoned his 70-year-old father, leaving him with a fractured skull, bruising to the back, abrasions to the head and back, and lacerations to the head, neck and hands.

In her arguments, Laws said a communications data warrant shows Woods Jr. was in the area at the time of the attack, and that there are family members who are “very afraid of this defendant and do not want him to get out.”

However, the state’s public safety assessment, a tool that helps a judge determine whether to release or detain a defendant, showed Woods Jr., who has no criminal history, has a low chance of failing to appear for court dates or new criminal activity.

“The PSA does not adequately reflect the defendant’s dangerousness or risk of failure to appear in court for this matter,” she said, reading the charges against him. ”The brutal and violent nature of this assault demonstrates his dangerousness to the victim and the community at large.”

But Roddy said he agreed with the assessment, saying Woods Jr. got a “perfect score” before proposing the plan for Woods Jr. to stay with his mother.

Woods Jr.’s next appearance is scheduled for March 4.

lcarroll-pressofac / Provided / Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City  

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City President Joe Lupo with the million dollar winner Joanna T., of Brooklyn, New York. (Sept 1, 2019)

Democrats call on Trump, Van Drew to reimburse Wildwood for rally

Democratic candidates vying to replace U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, called on him Thursday to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his rally with President Donald Trump if the president’s campaign won’t pay.

Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said Thursday that while the rally was a boost for the city, it will be at least a month before the full costs are known.

“It’s way too early,” Byron said. “We had police from Atlantic County, Cape May County, Vineland (and other places) come in to secure the area. We have to wait to get bills from the different agencies.”

Van Drew directed questions about costs to the Trump campaign, which could not immediately be reached Thursday evening for comment.

“The taxpayers of Wildwood shouldn’t be forced to pay up for a political rally for Van Drew, and it’s outrageous that their supposed representative would allow that to happen,” said Democratic candidate, mental health advocate and former teacher Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine.

“It is Van Drew’s obligation to clean up his own mess, both in Wildwood and in Washington,” said Brigid Harrision, of Longport, another Democratic candidate and a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University in Essex County.

Trump praises Van Drew in Wildwood campaign rally

WILDWOOD — As a capacity crowd inside the Wildwoods Convention Center shouted its approval, President Donald Trump showered praise on South Jersey congressman Jeff Van Drew on Tuesday, calling him brave and principled for voting against impeachment charges.

Byron said any promoter who comes to the city to put on an event is required by ordinance to at a minimum pay for any extra police, fire, emergency management and city workers needed.

“Those are the typical pass-through costs any promoter has to pay for,” Bryon said. Once the city has good numbers for those costs, it will first approach the Cape May County GOP organization for assistance, he said.

Trump promised Van Drew he would visit the 2nd Congressional District after Van Drew announced his switch from the Democratic to Republican party in an Oval Office news conference in December.

Van Drew was one of two Democrats who voted against both articles of impeachment against Trump in the House of Representatives.

Wildwood police Chief Robert Regalbuto issued a report Thursday saying about 7,000 people were admitted to the Wildwoods Convention Center on Tuesday, leaving large crowds in line in both the convention center parking lot and Fox Park to watch the president’s speech on two outdoor screens.

“We anticipated 30 various groups slated to attend in protest of President Trump, but only approximately 200 protesters in all attended,” Regalbuto said.

Wildwood police, assisted by fellow law enforcement officers, had few incidents to report.

“One individual was arrested in the late evening hours for acting in a disorderly manner and being found in possession of a large knife,” Regalbuto said. “This individual was ultimately issued multiple summons complaints and released in accordance with the New Jersey Bail Reform Act.”

Additionally, the Wildwood Fire Department reported a total of 64 responses inside the convention center and venue areas.

Regalbuto and Deputy Fire Chief Ernie Troiano III thanked city police and firefighters for their work on “this ‘HUGE’ undertaking.”

“This was something we could never have budgeted for,” Byron said. “It was not the president coming down to give an award. It was a promoted rally, and any promoter has to pay for costs associated.”

Byron said he hasn’t gotten any verbal agreement from the Trump campaign that it will help pay for any of the extra costs, but “we’ll play very friendly — start with the local GOP — and see where it goes from there.”

“Keep in mind we’re having a three-day country festival this summer that will bring in over 100,000 people,” Bryon said. That show will probably benefit the city even more, and its promoters will have to cover the city’s costs.

The city is thankful for the Trump rally, Byron said, as it is for every other major festival and event.

“We are in the wintertime, and maybe 5% (of restaurants and other tourism-related businesses) are open,” he said, because it’s so expensive to reopen and restaff once places are winterized. “It was a windfall for places that are open.”

GALLERY: President Donald Trump visits Wildwood

Heather Khalifa / The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP  

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, campaigned with President Donald Trump on Jan. 28 at the Wildwoods Convention Center.