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Live, Work, and Play (No, I Don’t Mean Gambling): How Diversification is the Key to Atlantic City’s Resurgence

Live, Work, and Play (No, I Don’t Mean Gambling): How Diversification is the Key to Atlantic City’s Resurgence

by: Gemini A. Nazareno, Jr.

While work on Atlantic City’s “Gateway Project” is well underway, the city’s government and partners are going into overdrive to spur economic development.[1] Currently, planning, funding, and construction is being coordinated by the Atlantic City Development Corporation, headed by President Christopher Paladino.[2] The new Stockton University campus and South Jersey Gas headquarters hope to rejuvenate the Chelsea neighborhood and demonstrate that the once-popular East Coast resort and gambling mecca is preparing for its comeback.[3] Given the headline news coverage highlighting the struggles of the poverty-stricken municipality—which is attributed to its dependency on gaming, tourism, and casino competition from neighboring states—the Gateway Project hopes to prove that diversification of its economy is the key to the aging city’s resurgence.[4] In order for the whole city to be successful and to transform, Atlantic City’s government and partners must embrace the Gateway Project’s model of diversifying and broadening its economic base to include corporate, residential, commercial/retail, healthcare, and academic offerings.[5]

On and around the former site of the Atlantic City High School, the approximately $200 million Gateway Project aims to attract people who will be active throughout the city at all times.[6] The once-bustling seaside resort town must be reimagined and transformed into an attractive place for people to live, to work, and to play.[7] At the intersection of Atlantic, Albany, and Pacific Avenues, Stockton will build an academic building for up to 1,800 students, a beachfront residential building for up to 500 students (including a student center on the world-famous Atlantic City Boardwalk), a parking garage with approximately 900 spaces topped by a new office for South Jersey Gas, and commercial/retail space on the ground floor.[8] The goal is that 1,800 students will use the academic building, 500 students will live on campus, residents and commuters will walk the streets, frequent commercial/retail shops, and have their families visit one of the local casinos or attractions.[9]

For this “Jersey Shore” resort town to succeed, people of all economic and educational backgrounds need to converge in Atlantic City.[10] It must abandon its “one-industry” model, dominated by a failing casino industry, and become a broader destination for people and businesses seeking to live and invest in the city.[11] It should develop a diverse economic base appealing to new residents, businesses, employees, and students, that can fuse with its native citizenry.[12] Essentially, it has to be treated like a real city.[13]

This model has been fine-tuned by the New Brunswick Development Corporation, where Paladino spearheaded approximately $1.5 billion in development projects throughout New Brunswick and has successfully expanded the Rutgers University campus.[14] A holistic approach is needed, targeting everything from economic development and affordable housing to the quality of schools and healthcare.[15] A mixed-use project like the Gateway Project is a great model that will allow students to be integrated into the city, while also being a catalyst for positive growth as public and private organizations come together to stabilize its infrastructure.[16] Unlike the Casino Control Act of 1977, which legalized gambling and subsequently revitalized the city’s tourism industry, it came at the cost of much needed gentrification. A holistic approach, one focused on mixed-use investment, will help to address the high crimes rate, active drug trade, low graduation rates, elevated home vacancy, high unemployment and poverty rates, and low per capita incomes (compared to other cities in New Jersey) that plague the city.[17]

When Stockton’s Atlantic City campus is completed, it will cap off its lengthy effort to expand in the city.[18] Stockton already has classrooms and offices at its Carnegie Center in the heart of the downtown area, and it also operates the Dante Hall Theatre and Noyes Arts Garage.[19] Stockton’s new campus will increase the University’s already significant presence and visibility in the city, benefitting students and contributing to its rebirth.[20] The campus will inject people and businesses into the city and alter the negative headlines dominating news cycles in New Jersey.[21] Such redevelopment will be required for the once-great coastal getaway to redefine itself into a more compelling destination for new residents, businesses, employees, and students.[22] It will become less dependent on its declining gaming and tourism industry—which is heavily reliant on its performance in warmer months.[23] However, it is up to the city’s government to unite its private and public partners to attract people and businesses to Atlantic City.

Currently, the Gateway property generates approximately $250,000 per year in property taxes.[24] After the Gateway Project is finished, it will generate approximately $1.5 million per year.[25] South Jersey Gas will pay approximately $870,000 per year for 30 years.[26] Stockton will pay increasing amounts linked to the income it generates from student tuition, with estimates starting at approximately $670,000 in its first year and increasing to nearly $1.2 million in its 30th year.[27]

In addition, Rowan University is preparing to take its first steps toward constructing a medical school campus in Atlantic City.[28] A feasibility study is being conducted by consulting firm Tripp Umbach to explore and better understand the impact associated with a potential four-year branch campus of Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine partnering with the 567-bed teaching hospital, AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which has campuses in Atlantic City and Pomona.[29] A medical school campus would be Rowan’s first established presence in Atlantic City.[30] Combining its efforts with AtlantiCare, one of the largest healthcare groups and non-casino employers in the Atlantic City area, Rowan could expand educational and healthcare opportunities in the South Jersey region and help to stimulate the city’s economy.[31]

Overall, the Gateway Project, and other related projects, hope to restore confidence and optimism in the once-great Atlantic City, formerly referred to as the Boardwalk Empire. For the State’s financially distressed casino hub to move forward, it must adopt a model that embraces the diversification of its corporate, residential, commercial/retail, healthcare, and academic offerings.[32] It must encourage new residents to live there. It must encourage new businesses to operate there. It must encourage new employees to work there. And, it must encourage new students to go to school there. The Gateway Project—together with Stockton and South Jersey Gas—will help to jumpstart redevelopment, create jobs, and revitalize the Atlantic City community with thousands of students, residents, businesses, and employees.[33]

[1].          Meir Rinde, Construction Slated to Begin on Stockton’s ‘Island Campus’ in Atlantic City, NJSpotlight.com, (Jun. 24 2016), http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/06/23/construction-slated-to-begin-on-stockton-s-island-campus-in-atlantic-city/ (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 11:30 AM).

[2].          Michelle Brunetti-Post, What A.C. needs to do for the Gateway Project to succeed, Press of Atl. City (Jul. 9, 2016), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/ac_impact/what-a-c-needs-to-do-for-the-gateway-project/article_e8d76576-4554-11e6-9ce7-c74c7abc9bcc.html (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 11:50 AM).

[3].          Rinde, supra note 1.

[4].          Id.

[5].             Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[6].             Id.

[7].          Id.

[8].          Jonathan Lai, How Stockton could change A.C. neighborhood, Philly.com (Mar. 14, 2016), http://articles.philly.com/2016-03-14/news/ 71479142_1_showboat-atlantic-city-casino (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 11:45 AM).

[9].          Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[10].         Id.

[11].         Alexandra A. Kozyra, The Fall of the Boardwalk Empire: New Jersey’s Gambling Devacle, Rutgers Ctr. for Corporate L. & Governance (Jun. 1, 2016), http://cclg.rutgers.edu/blog/the-fall-of-the-boardwalk-empire-new-jerseys-gambling-debacle/ (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 1:15 PM).

[12].         Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[13].         Id.

[14].         Id.

[15].         Id.

[16].         David Zuba, CRDA Board Gives Final Approval for the Gateway Redevelopment Area Project, Casino Reinvestment Dev. Auth. (Mar. 17, 2016), http://www.njcrda.com/featured-news/crda-board-gives-final-approval-for-the-gateway-redevelopment-area-project/ (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 12:05 PM).

[17].         Kozyra, supra note 11.

[18].         Rinde, supra note 1.

[19].            Id.

[20].         Anthony Bellano, Stockton President Discusses Expansion Into Atlantic City, Patch.com (Jun. 0, 2016, 2:06 PM), http://patch.com/new-jersey/galloway/stockton-president-discusses-expansion-atlantic-city-0 (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 12:00 PM).

[21].         Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[22].         Id.

[23].         John DeRosier, Can A.C.’s summer success help make it a 3-season town?, Press of Atl. City (Sept. 3, 2016), http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/press/casinos_tourism/can-a-c-s-summer-success-help-make-it-a/article_f54e1fdc-717f-11e6-9dcd-abe076cf419d.html (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 12:25 PM).

[24].         Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[25].         Id.

[26].         Id.

[27].         Id.

[28].         Jonathan Lai, Rowan pursues Atlantic City medical school campus, Philly.com (Feb. 17, 2016), http://articles.philly.com/2016-02-17/news/70673808_1_feasibility-study-houshmand-atlantic-city (last visited Sept. 20, 2016, 11:55 AM).

[29].         Id.

[30].         Id.

[31].         Id.

[32].         Brunetti-Post, supra note 2.

[33].         Zuba, supra note 16.