Yogi Berra immortalized the phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over,” but it was an Atlantic City casino reinvestment fund that helped immortalize the New York Yankees legend.
Parts of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State University in Essex County were built using funds from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Now, with Atlantic City’s government taken over by the state, the CRDA has been stripped of its yearly funding, nearly $22 million annually, forcing the agency to search for a new role other than economic kickstarter.
Projects such as the Berra museum still rankle local officials, including one member of the authority’s board of directors, who said funding projects outside the area was a mistake and signaled a “dark period.”
“I’m sure if I was a family in West New York, New Jersey, and all of my kids went to the YMCA that was paid for by CRDA, then I would be praising CRDA,” said Mayor Don Guardian, the former Special Improvement District director for the agency and a current member of the board. “I don’t know if that stuff changed a community.”
When CRDA’s board of directors approved funding for a portion of the Berra museum in 2000, some questioned the usefulness of it, but officials sold it as an educational venture. The $1.3 million was provided to the museum to help it pay off its debt.
The museum and several other projects in North Jersey were funded in part by the agency through casino taxes. North Jersey received more than $201 million from CRDA for projects that have no relation to or effect on Atlantic City from 1989 to 2011.
During that period, the agency funded several high-profile projects, including spending more than $10 million on a boardwalk in Long Branch, Monmouth County, and $52 million to increase purses at horse races at the Meadowlands Race Track in exchange for Atlantic City keeping its gaming monopoly.
Since its creation, the CRDA has invested $1.85 billion in Atlantic City through April 19, 2016, according to an analysis by The Press of Atlantic City of 454 resolutions passed by the authority. Overall, CRDA has invested $2.2 billion since its inception, including $374 million spent outside the city.
The Casino Control Act, the legislation that legalized Atlantic City gaming in 1977, required each casino to reinvest 2.5 percent of its gross gaming revenue. In 1984, the CRDA was established after casinos failed to make investments that had been promised. During that time, projects were selected from throughout the state for funding.
“It was a compromise to bring support for casinos in Atlantic City,” James Karmel, professor of history at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and author of “Gambling on The American Dream: Atlantic City and the Casino Era,” said of the funding for North Jersey projects.
“Everyone seemed to be happy about it,” Karmel said. “A rising tide lifts all ships, and that is the way people looked at it.”
But the practice of funding projects outside Atlantic City ended in 2012, when Gov. Chris Christie decided to focus all funds on projects in the resort.
ATLANTIC CITY — Inside an unfinished Revel Casino Hotel in 2011, Gov. Chris Christie declare…
“The history of CRDA sending money that was generated in Atlantic City all over the state, in my view a sad history, is over,” Christie said then.
State Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said over the years political interests have used CRDA to fund pet projects.
He said the funding of such projects “is just another example of outside special interests getting rich at the expense of Atlantic County families.”
In 2002, CRDA invested more $11 million for the redevelopment of the oceanfront in Long Branch. At the time, the project was touted to redevelop the area and bring in more than 447 jobs, according to the resolution approving the funding.
But Guardian said the money could have been used to help spur development in Atlantic City.
“They did a beautiful job on the boardwalk in Long Branch,” Guardian said. “But why didn’t they do that here? Couldn’t you have done that on Texas Avenue?”
Staff Writer Christian Hetrick contributed to this report.