Shore Basks In Season Of Profit, Good Weather

Posted: September 02, 1997

With the Labor Day holiday weekend crowds gone and a long winter vacation in sight, you would think that Bill Kelly, general manager of Atlantic City's Steel Pier, would be a relieved guy today.

It is the last weekday that the famed amusement park will be open until June.

The park's rides will continue to plunge, spin and roll on weekends only until the middle of October. That means the probability of more accidents should be greatly reduced - seemingly good news for a place where two people fell from rides during a summer of an unprecedented seven serious mishaps at Jersey Shore amusement parks, including one drowning.

Yet business at the Steel Pier was good this summer, with revenues for the year expected to be 10 percent higher than last year. So yesterday, Kelly was sad to see the summer tourism season end.

``I'm in the business to see a lot of people enjoying themselves,'' Kelly said. ``I'd rather see it run 365 days a year.''

So would plenty of other tourist-dependent business operators along the Jersey Shore who said they would look back on the summer of '97 with fond memories of healthy sales, booked rental properties and, perhaps key to it all, little rain. A healthy economy and no major beach closings helped, too.

Hank Glaser, president of Shriver's saltwater taffy in Ocean City and spokesman for the Boardwalk division of the resort's Chamber of Commerce, said Boardwalk businesses were reporting 10 percent to 15 percent increases in revenues over last year. He described this summer as the best for business in years.

In Wildwood Crest, Mayor John Pantalone was reporting $15,000 more than usual in summer meter revenue and only two days off taken by the beach patrol due to rain.

``We were really blessed with absolutely wonderful weather,'' said James Iannone, a commissioner and real estate agent in Sea Isle City. ``The ocean was in great shape. Our beaches were in great shape. We were at just about full capacity.''

The state Department of Labor last week said that reports through July indicated that the Shore's tourism industry was on a record-setting pace. A study by KPMG Peat Marwick of 46 Jersey Shore hotels showed occupancy rates had risen 3 percent during June and July compared with the same period last year. They were up 6 percent in the Wildwoods - the towns of Wildwood, North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest, which are collectively working to reestablish their chunk of the Jersey coast as a family resort area.

There is no disputing that it's easier to fill hotel rooms when tar balls and hypodermic needles are not washing up on the beaches. There were no problems with such ``floatables'' this summer. Of the 18 beach closings, most were due to storm-related high bacteria levels, said Amy Collings, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Only five involved South Jersey beaches, with most lasting just one day, she said.

A freakish band of thunderstorms rumbled through the region on Aug. 20 and 21, dumping 13.5 inches of rain in only 24 hours in parts of South Jersey, washing out roads and bridges in Atlantic and Cumberland Counties. But overall, raindrops were hard to find at the Shore this summer. According to Accu-Weather in State College, Pa., there were 60 rain-free days recorded at Atlantic City International Airport from June 1 through Aug. 31, compared with 48 for the same period last year.

While this summer was hotter, with temperatures hitting 90 degrees or above 16 days compared with three last year, it probably felt more comfortable because there were few consecutive days when the humidity was high, Accu-Weather meteorologist Patrick Folaron said.

In Atlantic City, Donald Trump made sure all was not completely comfortable - at least for state officials and gaming rival Steve Wynn of Las Vegas. Trump kept lawyers for the state and Wynn's Mirage Resorts Inc. busy in court this summer as he tried unsuccessfully with several lawsuits to stop the public-private tunnel and roadway project that Wynn has made a condition of his return to Atlantic City. The tunnel deal - which calls for the state to spend up to $220 million for the project and Mirage no more than $110 million - is expected to close this week, possibly as early as today.

But gaming analysts and competitors agree that Bally's Park Place provided the most sizzle in Atlantic City this summer with the debut in July of its Wild Wild West Casino, the first Las Vegas-style themed gaming hall in the seaside resort.

Disappointing to the other 11 casinos in town is that the Wild Wild West - which reported a 38 percent increase in revenues for July - seems to have had no impact in attracting to Atlantic City those gamblers who were not already coming. Atlantic City casinos reported a combined 1.5 percent increase in revenues for July, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

Mark Juliano, president of Caesar's Atlantic City, said he preferred to focus on November and December, when the new 502-room convention center hotel and Caesar's 620-room hotel tower open, respectively. For Atlantic City to reach its potential as a true destination resort, it needs more hotel rooms and more family-oriented entertainment resorts such as the lavish, $750 million one Wynn has planned for the off-Boardwalk marina area, Juliano said.

Avalon this summer reinforced its family image by using a police bus to round up underage drinkers. More than 2,000 summonses were issued, said Mayor Marty Pagliughi. The bus will be back next summer, he said.

Having breakfast on a Boardwalk bench yesterday in another family resort, Ocean City, was Herb Simmens, director of planning for New Jersey and a resident of Hunterdon County. His overnight stay had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, decided as he and some friends were making their way back from five days on the Delmarva Peninsula, including a stopover in Assateague, Md., to see the wild ponies. Yesterday, they were watching a bunch of hungry seagulls pick at their breakfast leftovers.

Asked why he had selected someplace other than the Jersey Shore for a beach vacation this year, Simmens shifted into state cheerleader: ``We're always looking for ideas on how to make New Jersey a better place, hard as that may be.''

On Friday, Linda Mysliwy Conlin, the state's travel and tourism director, refused to concede the end of summer. She touted the Shore's ``second summer,'' September and October, when the weather and the ocean are still warm and the resort towns still host a variety of special events.

Conlin need not waste her pitch on Gail Goldsmith, 37, who was busy sidestepping the bicycle traffic, rollerbladers and joggers on Ocean City's Boardwalk yesterday, a large tub of Johnson's caramel popcorn tucked under her arm for the ride home to Northeast Philadelphia. She said she has a few more trips to her mother's Ocean City house planned before the year ends.

``September and October are always my favorite time of the year here,'' she said, ``because everyone else goes home.''

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