As the sun sets on 2017, Atlantic City has added yet more chapters to its multiyear story of credible, quantifiable revival. Yet, too many press outlets persist in reporting a destination in decline. Certainly, economic and social issues remain. But “decline?” That bandwagon has square wheels, and Atlantic City neither needs, nor deserves, such careless, inaccurate and misleading labeling.
Closely observing and experiencing Atlantic City’s turnaround from the inside over the last decade, I can report the real buzz happening today: action and activity, optimism and progress.
This April, in town for the upbeat 2017 Global Meetings Industry Day (GMID) program, I attended Hard Rock International’s press conference announcing its transformation of Trump Taj Mahal. Slated to open on Memorial Day 2018, the $500 million investment reverberates like a power chord of confidence in the market.
Another is Caesars Entertainment’s now completed three-year, $200 million upgrade of its three Atlantic City properties, including my GMID base, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. One of 450 refreshed in the property’s $30 million enhancement, my Bayview Tower room is a redesign triumph, along with the high-energy Pool After Dark pool and nightclub venue, and four new restaurants.
In May, I experienced the energy of Tropicana Atlantic City. Like the daily Multimedia Light & Sound Show on its Boardwalk facade, one of the many sustained investments and renovations that have utterly transformed Tropicana in recent years, the property dazzled with remarkable new products, such as my regal King Suite in the upgraded North Tower.
The same visit included a hardhat tour of the destination’s now completed Observation Wheel with Steel Pier owner and President Anthony Catanoso (see “Man of Steel”) and a show by acclaimed Springsteen tribute group the B Street Band at The Deck, Golden Nugget’s rocking Marina-facing outdoor entertainment venue.
In July, I joined around 60 meeting planners on a Meet AC-hosted client fam. Ferried around in Atlantic City’s historic Jitneys (a definitive resource for planners), we went from Borgata Hotel & Casino’s outdoor Beer Garden to Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Then, the rock star ride into the historic 14,770-seat Boardwalk Hall’s garage, via the VIP entrance, for a sold-out concert by The Who.
Borrowing a lyric from the English rock legends themselves, “don’t get fooled again” by reports of decline. Across-the-board metrics say otherwise. Increasing for the first time in five years in 2016, tourism keeps growing, producing record-breaking lodging revenue efficiency, increases in non-casino revenue per available room and other gains. Conventions continue to help drive $2.1 billion in annual non-gaming revenue, with Atlantic City Convention Center-related room nights (up 7.3 percent), delegates (14.3 percent) and delegate spending (23 percent) all 12-month gainers as of August 2017.
Amid intensifying Northeast competition, gross gaming revenues hit a 10-year high of $2 billion this September, with all casinos profitable and on track to meet or exceed 2016’s $2.5 billion total.
Numbers don’t lie, which makes assumptions for continuing stability, expansion and profitability, bolstered by around $1.8 billion in ongoing capital improvements, confident indeed.
Following 2016 successes such as the reopening of the 872-room Showboat Hotel and debut of 15,000 square feet of conference space at the historic Radisson-flagged Claridge Hotel, for a total of 100,000 square feet, plus the new VUE rooftop bar, 2017 and beyond are about openings, not closures.
Along with the Hard Rock project, highlights include the anticipated 2018 relaunch of the Revel mega-resort as TEN. The $210 million Gateway project is underway, including a new beachfront Stockton University campus and new South Jersey Gas headquarters, along with the extension of the historic Boardwalk to Gardner’s Basin.
The clearest view of progress comes from the tourism and resort frontline.
“The momentum from hosting MPI WEC, TEAMS and other major industry shows in 2016 carried over into 2017, helping to advance our year-over-year growth at the convention center and meetings market overall,” said Meet AC President and CEO Jim Wood, now entering his fourth year as the bureau’s steadfast leader. “Our new narrative around repositioning for meetings and conventions has positively shifted perception among planners that previously shied away from gaming destinations. The result has been increasing inquiries and bookings, and more willingness by clients to sign multiyear contracts with us.”