ATLANTIC CITY — The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority wants to stimulate the economy in the city’s Downtown section, and it’s looking to use state employees to jumpstart that effort.
Multiple state agencies located in Atlantic City — the Division of Gaming Enforcement, the Casino Control Commission, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority and the CRDA — have offices sprinkled throughout the resort. Jeremy Sunkett, CRDA’s director of project management, advocated Wednesday the consolidation of those offices into a building in the city’s Downtown section near The Walk Outlets to stimulate business in the area and give the section more value to potential investors.
Many of those potential developers gathered at the Atlantic City Convention Center to hear Sunkett’s presentation Wednesday, part of an investment conference organized by the CRDA to discuss building Atlantic City into an urban center that looks beyond the benefits of the gaming industry.
The agency-consolidation concept is part of the authority’s effort to create heavy density in the area around The Walk, considered the city’s Downtown area. The strategy is centered on building on The Walk’s success and a hope to fill many of the “dead zones” that separate the resort’s developed areas.
Susan Ney Thompson, CRDA’s interim executive director, said the agency discussed the possibility of consolidating state agencies a “couple of months ago” with state officials, but that the authority is still researching the plan.
The relocation of the agencies also could free up some prime real estate in Atlantic City. The DGE and CCC are both located along the Boardwalk. The ACCVA is on the ground floor of Boardwalk Hall along Pacific Avenue.
But, beyond convincing officials in Trenton, other obstacles could make the moves difficult. Linda Kassekert, chair of the CCC, noted the commission still has multiple years left on its Boardwalk lease. However, she didn’t discount the idea.
“We’ve had some discussions about it,” said Kassekert, whose staff has been depleted by changes in the city’s regulatory rules. “We are smaller now, so things could change.”
The CRDA already has plans to develop in the Downtown district by capitalizing on the properties it already owns and the opportunities that the new parking garage at The Walk creates.
The garage, which is slated to open in late November, will make two surface parking lots in the area obsolete. The CRDA owns both of those lots — one across from Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern on Arctic Avenue, the other across from the Tun Tavern on Convention Boulevard — and is moving forward with development plans.
Sunkett said the authority is preparing to formally solicit development proposals for the Arctic Avenue lot, currently operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority. A request for proposals is expected to be advertised in about two weeks. The authority has also had discussions about the Convention Boulevard site, mostly revolving around establishing the city’s only supermarket, a high demand among residents.
Fresh Grocer, a supermarket operator with a chain of stores in Philadelphia, has been in ongoing discussions with the CRDA about establishing a store along Convention Boulevard. Pat Burns, the company’s CEO, said Wednesday they hope to build a 50,000 square-foot facility there.
Burns said, along with security issues, that one of the reasons past supermarkets failed here is because they were too small.
The CRDA’s strategy for the Downtown section includes other long-range plans, such as its “Atlantic Village” development scheme. Located in front of Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic Village would feature mixed-use development focused on arts and entertainment. The section would include an amphitheater across from the concert venue to offer free outdoor shows prior to performances inside Boardwalk Hall.
But that area certainly presents development challenges. The CRDA owns about a third of the land, which is mostly occupied by strip clubs and rundown motels. The ownership of the rest of the land is among Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., Caesars Entertainment and other private owners.
The Downtown section does lie within the city’s new Tourism District, which will be run by the CRDA. State officials are hoping the district, created to give the state a stronger hand in revitalizing the city’s tourism industry, will give developers another reason to consider investing in the resort.
The conference opened Wednesday morning with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno speaking to the room of potential investors, promoting the state’s plan to create the Tourism District as a way to streamline development and make things easier on investors.
“We’ve streamlined government, streamlined the visitors center, streamlined the district so you can get the tools you need to invest in Atlantic City,” she said. “I don’t think anybody can deny that we all agree Atlantic City could use some help.”
Mayor Lorenzo Langford followed Guadagno with a brief welcome speech, but continued to hint at his displeasure with aspects of the state’s Tourism District plan.
“I will resist the temptation to respond or to comment on some of the political jargon that has been expressed,” he said following Guadagno’s speech. “We will continue to fight what we believe is right, rightfully ours.”
The city remains opposed to aspects of the Tourism District, most notably the required transfer of planning and zoning powers within the district to the CRDA.
Langford stressed to attendees that “we’re serious in Atlantic City when it comes to business.”
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