ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Three months after it was reported his city suffered its lowest tourism numbers in three decades, Mayor Frank Gilliam stood proudly on the steps of the brand new Ocean Resort Casino and boldly proclaimed: “As you look out and see the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and the infamous boardwalk, Atlantic City is truly back in the game.
“This a monumental moment,” he said on June 30, 2018. “This was truly a collaboration of folks finally realizing that Atlantic City is not only an important part of New Jersey history, but world history.
“There’s a new energy in this town. Things like this don’t just happen by chance. It happens with people who have vision, who have guts and took a chance and bet on Atlantic City.
“Let me tell you, Atlantic City is a sure bet.”
Only time will tell if betting on Atlantic City will turn out to be a winning proposition. But if the energy and excitement that encircled this historic city during the summer months of 2018 are any indication, Mr. Mayor's words may prove to be prophetic.
Of course, when you unveil two lavish, ocean side resorts boasting an array of amenities just steps away from each other on the same sun-splashed, summer day, it certainly provides a strong wave of momentum. Ocean Resort Casino, formerly the Revel Casino Hotel — which cost $2.6 billion (U.S.) to build in 2012 — and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, previously Trump Taj Mahal, spared no expense in the reconstruction of their respective properties, while at the same time helping to restore Atlantic City’s job market, returning nearly 7,000 of the 11,000 jobs that were lost when five casinos in the city shut down starting in 2014.
Above: The spectacular 60-storey Ocean Resort Casino is actually the centrepiece of the new Atlantic City.
At 60 storeys, the massive Ocean Resort Casino is the tallest building in the city and the second-tallest hotel tower in the U.S. There are 16 restaurants/bars, 1,399 guest rooms, all with floor-to-ceiling windows, and an abundance of "flexible outdoor event space,” including six pools, a spa and an area off the lobby with fire pits and comfortable seating.
The Hard Rock property, which cost $500 million to revamp, is true to its brand, with exclusive rock 'n' roll memorabilia found throughout the 6.8-hectare property, along with 19 dining venues, an indoor pool and the Rock Spa & Salon. It also features six performance venues, including the Howie Mandel Comedy Club, the flashy DAER Nightclub and the Etess Arena that seats 7,000 and regularly hosts world-class concerts and championship sporting events.
The two first-class resorts — as well as the opening of a Stockton University branch campus and ocean-front dormitory this fall — most certainly interjected some much-needed vivacity into a city that has seen a decline in visitors every year since 2005, according to the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
In 2017, 24.1 million tourists came to Atlantic City, the lowest number since 1982. During the 2000s, the city that inspired the board game Monopoly and the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire, averaged more than 32 million visitors a year. With increased competition for casino goers up and down the East Coast, the market became saturated and Atlantic City took the brunt of the hit, despite sitting in the heart of the northeast with nearly 30 million people living within a three-hour drive.
“We've been through some dramatic ups and downs," says Larry Sieg, a 21-year veteran of Atlantic City tourism who currently serves as Director of Communications and Marketing for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. “But Atlantic City is resilient. We always come out on top and we're on our way to doing so again.”
But Atlantic City has always had much more to offer than simply dice games and slot machines, and the list of non-gaming activities continues to grow.
First and foremost is the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk, the 6.4-km, 18.2-metre-wide wooden walkway built in the late 1800s, filled with outdoor entertainment, shopping, beach activities and gorgeous vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. The Boardwalk is also home to Steel Pier, a 304-metre-long amusement park with thrill rides, a carousel, games and the typical fair food, as well as The Wheel, a 69-metre-high observation wheel with 40 temperature-controlled gondolas that opened in 2017 and has become a true landmark of the Atlantic City shoreline.
Above: One of Elvis' old cars reminds new visitors of Atlantic City's golden era.
The Atlantic City calendar is filled with year-round events, concerts, fairs and festivals. The city is well-known for its flourishing and eclectic culinary scene with venues featuring chefs such as Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsey. Shopping is another blossoming highlight, with the Tanger Outlets, a $76 million, 15-city block dining and retail outlet, and The Quarter at Tropicana, a $245 million venue with retail, dining, entertainment and spas.
Arts and culture highlights include the Civil Rights Garden, New Jersey Korean War Memorial, an aquarium and zoos, and don't forget outdoor activities. Sieg says that golf has been instrumental in enticing Canadians to make the drive south to Atlantic City, thanks to 25 championship courses all within an easy drive of each other.
Not to take away from the grand opening of Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino, but the other properties in the city have really “stepped up their game to continue to make Atlantic City a unique location in so many ways,” says Sieg.
One of those properties is Showboat Atlantic City, a former casino that now houses 1,331 rooms, including 852 with oceanfront rooms and sits directly between the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino.
“Atlantic City is coming back in a big way. There's no doubt about that; that's why we're here," explains Brandon Dixon, COO of Tower Investments. "It's surrounded by beach and so many different amenities. Property values are going up. Jobs are being created. This is a city that is going to flourish again and we're excited to be along for the ride.”