Atlantic City- Dead or Alive?
By: Ron Kapon
At a recent scholarship event for the International School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I bid and won several items. One was an evening at Resorts Casino & Hotel in Atlantic City, along with dinner for two. I am not a gambler and never was, but my curiosity got the better of me so I contacted the hotel. Could you extend my visit to two nights and allow me to use the $100 dinner credit for any meals while there?
I heard back from Meg Lewis, Executive Director of Marketing and Bus Operations who okayed my request. At the scholarship event I had met Sharon Franz, Director of Sales & Marketing for the Steel Pier (I remembered the horse jumping into the ocean from the old Steel Pier). She and Grace Hanlon, former Executive Director of tourism for NJ, introduced me to the new Executive Director of the Garden State Wine Growers Association Tom Cosentino, who agreed to take me to a winery while I was in AC. I had complained that in the 22 years I have taught the wine & spirits class at FDU I had never served a New Jersey wine nor ever been approached by a winery in the state where my class was located. http://www.newjerseywines.com/.
In addition, Dr. Donald Hoover who runs the FDU program at Atlantic Cape Community College www.fdu.edu offered to show me around the city. He spent 20 years at the now closed Tropicana Hotel (along with my host at Resorts, Meg Lewis). Greyhound had a 10 AM bus from the Port Authority Terminal to Atlantic City-www.greyhound.com First stop was Bally’s and then Resorts. Cost was $19 each way. Resorts gave me a suite and off I went to the pool (indoor/outdoor with a retractable roof) to use the Jacuzzi. Resorts recently completed a $70 million renovation, including the addition of the Margaritaville Entertainment complex. www.resortsac.com Then it was a 3-minute walk to the Steel Pier. They have the only helicopter tour on the New Jersey shore and 25 kiddie and extreme rides as well as a fun game arcade. There are food and beverage outlets, including the Ocean Reef Bar and Steel Pier Pub (on the boardwalk). There is a 10,000-square-foot bridge which links the Taj to the Steel Pier and would be ideal for a high-end restaurant.
The owner Anthony Catanoso and his brothers have completely redone the pier. They are adding the tallest observation wheel in the State of New Jersey. This $14 million project will draw 50,000 riders a month year-round. The riders will soar 200 feet to view Atlantic City’s spectacular skyline in climate-controlled gondolas. The project is being built with assistance from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the city government and will be open in the fall of this year. The pier was 1,000 feet when it began in 1898, and has been one of the most popular entertainment venues in the United States for the first seven decades of the twentieth century, with concerts, exhibits, and the amusement park. The pier was owned by Trump Entertainment Resorts (across the street from the Trump Taj Mahal) for two decades until 2011, when it was sold to the Catanoso family who previously leased the pier.
Nik Wallenda’s Zirkus will enthrall audiences from July 9 through September 2 in the Xanadu Theater at the Taj. Nik is a seventh generation member of the legendary Wallenda family. He was the first person to walk a wire across the Grand Canyon and is the only person to walk directly over the precipice of Niagara Falls. www.trumptaj.com http://www.steelpier.com When I told my friends I was going to Atlantic City I heard “you don’t gamble; what are you going to do; the place is dead! Everything is closed up there!” As long as you are inside one of AC’s eight operating casinos everything is fine. There were lines of people at Resorts, the Golden Nugget, and Borgata etc.
True, almost 21,000 people have lost their casino jobs with the closure of Trump Plaza, Revel, Atlantic Club and Showboat. The Golden Nugget was formerly Trump Marina. I was told both Revel and Showboat will reopen in some form with new ownership. It will cost millions to remove the Trump name from everything in his former hotel (even the soap). I did stop at the Tanger Outlets (almost 100 stores) opposite the Convention Center and the non-gaming Sheraton Hotel. There are new pier shops at Caesars that target the millennial (18-34) that seem the hope for this town.
Bass Pro Shop, a $34 million project, features an 86,000-square foot store. Harrah’s $126 million Waterfront Conference Center will open this August. Cash sales at non-gambling outlets within casinos now represent 28.5% of revenue. Borgota has built Festival Park, an outdoor concert facility that can hold 5,000. The Playground is a $52 million music-themed entertainment attraction. Star chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Fieri and Steve Martorano have recently opened new restaurants in Atlantic City.
Total revenue at all the open casinos was up 3% from a year ago. There were over 16,000 more hotel rooms booked and as of April 2016 over 400,000 more vehicles traveled through the Atlantic City Expressway toll. The talk of a possible state takeover of Atlantic City (not happening as of now) and the recurring word “bankruptcy” has impacted the convention business. Operating profits at the city’s eight casinos were up 31% in the first quarter of 2016, from a year ago.
The next morning Donald Hoover picked me up for breakfast near the Aquarium at Gilchrist Restaurant in Gardener’s Basin. www.gilchristrestaurant.com He then took me on a tour of the city pointing out the unoccupied condos, most facing the water that are selling at very, very low prices. At Noon Tom Cosentino picked me up for the ¾ hour drive to Tomasello Winery in Hammonton, the blueberry capitol of the world. In the 1930’s, the grandfather of the 3rd generation owners Jack & Charles Tomasello, Frank Tomasello was a berry farmer. He was known for his raspberries, strawberries, peaches and sweet potatoes. But he had a special knack for growing grapes and a passion for wine.
There are over 70 acres of varietal grapes planted in the Outer Coastal Plain AVA (American Viticultural Area). Besides the main winery there are a total of eight tasting rooms around the state where one can sample and purchase their wines. They have a beautiful winery ballroom that can seat 225 guests for a wedding. I especially enjoyed their Palmaris 2012 Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve- $35 and their Tomasello Atlantic County Vidal Blanc Ice Wine- $27. I did try their Daffodil White ($9), Blueberry Moscato ($13) and Blackberry ($9) wines just for fun. www.tomasellowinery.com My Greyhound bus left Resorts at 5:30 and once again Meg Lewis came through by allowing me a 2 PM checkout. I used the time to once again sit out on the pool deck and walk the boardwalk area. $19 return fare and luck would have it there was no traffic delay and I was back in my apartment in 2 ½ hours. Atlantic City is alive and well after surviving life threatening surgery.