Christie calls summit on future of Atlantic City

On Tuesday, Revel (right) announced it would close its doors by Sept. 10, becoming the fourth casino in the city to close or announce closure this year. On Wednesday, Gov. Christie announced a summit to be held next month.
On Tuesday, Revel (right) announced it would close its doors by Sept. 10, becoming the fourth casino in the city to close or announce closure this year. On Wednesday, Gov. Christie announced a summit to be held next month. (Bloomberg)
Posted: August 15, 2014

Gov. Christie, in his first remarks about Atlantic City in the wake of news Tuesday that 3,200 more casino workers in the city would soon be out of jobs, announced Wednesday the convening of a summit next month on the resort's future.

In a statement issued by his office, Christie - who was traveling in Alabama and Mississippi to boost fellow GOP governors - said there was "no doubt that Atlantic City faces real challenges as the city undergoes revitalization," while also emphasizing signs of progress in non-gaming areas, including luxury-tax receipts and retail wages.

Rebranding Atlantic City as more than a gaming destination has been a focus of Christie and other political leaders as the city struggles to stem the hemorrhaging of gaming revenues amid increased competition in surrounding states.

On Tuesday, Revel Casino Hotel announced it would shut its doors by Sept. 10, becoming the fourth casino in the city to close or announce closure this year.

"It's going to be painful. Thousands of people are losing their jobs," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said in a phone interview before the governor's office announced the plans for the Sept. 8 summit. Sweeney is among the invitees.

"We're going to have to rebuild," Sweeney said. He said he expected that the Revel property - whose construction has been criticized by some industry experts but which he supported - would still be "successful," "whether it's a casino or another function."

He said that further diversifying the city's economy would be key to putting people back to work.

The closure of the recently constructed luxury Revel - a $2.4 billion project that Christie helped resurrect in 2011 after the recession stalled its completion - would add to the ranks of unemployed workers in Atlantic City.

The Revel announcement followed the closure of the Atlantic Club earlier this year, and news that Showboat and Trump Plaza will also close, leaving thousands more out of work.

"Here's a situation that no one expected," Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said Wednesday night on a talk-radio program on WPG 1450.

Of Christie's summit announcement, Guardian, a fellow Republican, said: "This is where the rubber meets the road."

He said state officials have been visiting Atlantic City, but the summit would allow for a collective conversation: "You bring all of them together and say, 'Here's what we really need to do.' "

Guardian is listed among the invitees to the summit, which Christie's office said would also feature Democratic and Republican legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly; other Atlantic City officials, including Democratic State Sen. Jim Whelan, Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown, and Democratic Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo; and officials of the casino industry and organized labor.

Jon Hanson, the chairman of a state gaming, sports, and entertainment advisory commission, will lead efforts in issuing recommendations after the summit, Christie's office said.

Christie created the advisory commission in 2010 to make recommendations on challenges facing the gaming, sports, and entertainment industries.

That year, the commission issued a report with recommendations for Atlantic City, including the creation of a "clean and safe" tourism district with state oversight, and marketing efforts to increase visitation.

Christie adopted that approach the following year, creating a state-run tourism district in the city and beginning a marketing push that focused on non-gaming options in the resort.

In the announcement Wednesday, Christie's office highlighted "Signs of Atlantic City's Nongaming Renewal." It noted growth in tax receipts for alcoholic beverages, event tickets, and other "amusement attractions"; a casino hotel occupancy rate for 2014 above 95 percent; and an expansion of the retail sector over the last three years, particularly clothing stores.

Sweeney said the prospect of Richard Stockton College locating a campus in Atlantic City - a possibility also floated recently by Guardian - "would be a major first step."

The Senate president has previously said he envisioned creating a nonprofit board of business leaders to reinvest gaming revenues from possible new casinos in North Jersey into Atlantic City. Currently, the state restricts casinos to Atlantic City.

Asked Wednesday whether he still supported that approach, Sweeney said it was one of several "concepts" he had. "I'm sure others have better ideas," he said. But he reiterated that new revenue from any expansion of gaming to North Jersey "has to go to re-creating Atlantic City."

Lawyers for Revel on Wednesday filed a notice in federal bankruptcy court that they intended to delay an auction that was scheduled for Thursday - and was thrown into doubt when the company said it had encountered challenges in its attempts to sell the property.

In the filing, the lawyers said the debtors had been "working with certain potential bidders" and required more time before an auction. The filing does not specify a new auction date.

Businesses that employ workers in the Revel resort, meanwhile, have asked the court to schedule a status conference to address their concerns.

Warren Martin, a lawyer for 11 businesses that employ 800 workers, asked Judge Gloria Burns in a filing Tuesday to hold a conference to address the resort's future "in a clear and transparent manner," saying that the Revel debtors had "chosen to shroud their sale process in secrecy."

Christie is scheduled to hold a town hall-style meeting in Ocean City on Thursday.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

@maddiehanna

www.inquirer.com/

christiechronicles

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