ATLANTIC CITY — The resort’s former mayor led a forum of forward-looking ideas that could help shape the county and the city for decades to come, while the current chief executive of the city was nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, the highest-ranking state official overseeing the city told attendees at the annual economic forum that revitalizing Atlantic City is a major goal of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver told attendees at the 2019 Atlantic City Metropolitan Business and Citizens Association New Year’s Kickoff that returning the seaside resort to its former glory as a world-class attraction is a primary focus of the state, while innovation and investment from county and city stakeholders will be the economic drivers to make it happen.
“It’s just been a year since our administration has been re-cultivating the landscape here in New Jersey,” Oliver said Wednesday afternoon inside the Palladium Ballroom at Caesars Atlantic City, “and Atlantic City is at the top of the list of our administration’s priorities.”
Former Mayor and MBCA Vice President Don Guardian, clad in his trademark bowtie, served as master of ceremonies for the annual event, which in recent years has served as an official forum for the mayor to deliver a State of the City address.
Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr. was not in attendance Wednesday. Gilliam did not respond to requests for comment.
Last year, Oliver and Gilliam delivered the official address together at a Greater Atlantic City Chamber event in May.
Oliver also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, which has direct oversight of the city’s finances until 2021. She told the several hundred guests the DCA has the full support of every other agency in Trenton following an executive order signed by Murphy in 2018 to “reconfigure” Atlantic City.
“Atlantic City has a great future,” she said. “Atlantic City is going to move forward aggressively, assertively and we are going to regain our position as one of the top tourist destinations in this country. We are going to do that.”
Following the lieutenant governor’s optimistic vision for the city, four speakers — each with a different area of expertise — delivered brief presentations about strengthening the regional economy.
Evan Sanchez, co-owner of Hayday Coffee in Atlantic City and partner of the Orange Loop development, gave an impassioned speech about how transforming one of the city’s most unwelcoming neighborhoods could serve as a blueprint for the entire resort.
The Orange Loop consists of a three-block area that includes Tennessee and New York avenues and St. James Place and is named after the orange spaces on a traditional Monopoly board. To date, five businesses — Hayday, The Leadership Studio, Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall, Made Chocolate and Bourre — have opened their doors on the Orange Loop, which Sanchez said is helping to create a destination experience on the beach blocks.
“We plan to break down silos and work collaboratively with businesses and organizations, new and old, to build a better block for a better city,” said Sanchez, adding the development is part of a “new downtown” that leverages existing assets, such as the beach and Boardwalk. “In 2019, you’re going to see a continuation of development on Tennessee Avenue.”
Sanchez said the ultimate goal is to transform the Orange Loop into a neighborhood where people want to live, work and recreate.
Jim Wood, president of Meet AC, the city’s convention bureau, touted his organization’s success in bringing increased convention business to the city. Lauren Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance, spoke to his organization’s efforts to capitalize on the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township. And Jeff Vasser, executive director of the state Division of Travel & Tourism, highlighted AtlantiCare’s upcoming $38 million HealthPark campus, which the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority gave preliminary approval to Tuesday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to state that the lieutenant governor and the mayor delivered the 2018 State of the City address at an event hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.