The highly publicized closure of four casinos in 2014 has forced the seaside city’s hand and caused it to reshuffle the deck. “Once upon a time Atlantic City was the only game in town, and we had a monopoly on the gaming industry. Today there are 59 casinos in the Northeast, with more coming on board in New York and Massachusetts. We are looking to diversify,” says Jim Wood, president/CEO of Meet AC (Atlantic City), a nonprofit agency formed in 2014 to boost the city’s meetings and convention trade.
“Atlantic City is a lot more than a gaming destination. You have a beautiful, oceanfront setting with a great boardwalk, museums and shopping options, and many leisure attractions and amenities,” Wood says.
He notes that planners will be pleasantly surprised by the way Atlantic City is expanding. Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City’s highly anticipated Waterfront project will add 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including two pillarless 50,000-square-foot ballrooms. The $125.8 million state-of-the-art facility is projected to open in August. Resorts Casino Hotel is adding 12,000 sq. ft of meeting space, which should be completed about the same time.
There’s nothing like free money to sweeten a deal, and Meet AC is offering attractive incentive programs to entice meeting professionals to stage events there.
Throughout 2015, planners who book Atlantic City Convention Center will receive up to 10 percent of their gross room revenue back as a cash incentive, according to Wood. Contact Meet AC at atlanticcitynj.com for more specifics.
Atlantic City has plenty of interesting attractions. To get a good overview, start with a guided sightseeing tour operated by the Great American Trolley Company. The trolley stops at major sites such as Absecon Lighthouse, Atlantic City Aquarium and James Salt Water Taffy Factory. Customized group tours are also available.
Absecon Lighthouse, New Jersey’s tallest such structure, recently underwent a multimillion-dollar restoration. For $7 visitors can climb the 228 steps to the top and take in a magnificent 360-degree view of the Jersey shoreline. Atlantic City Aquarium is home to more than 100 varieties of fish and marine animals. At its aquatic petting zoo visitors can touch live sharks, horseshoe crabs and sea urchins, and planners can arrange for memorable corporate events in the space.
HBO’s critically acclaimed TV series Boardwalk Empire, which aired from 2010 to 2014, renewed interest in Atlantic City. Fans of the Prohibition-era crime drama can take self-guided tours of some of the filming spots. Highlights include Knife & Fork Inn, which in 1912 was a legendary men’s drinking club. Next door is Irish Pub, a turn-of-the century building that was formerly a speakeasy and features a trap door.
Arguably one of the most quirky sightseeing attractions is Lucy—a six-story elephant listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks. Technically located in Margate (a 10-minute drive from AC), the roadside attraction is older than the Statue of Liberty. Built in 1881 to attract visitors, Lucy played a prominent role during Prohibition. (Owners reportedly hung colored lights in Lucy’s large glass eyes to signal bootleggers—red warned them to stay in their boats; green meant it was safe to venture into town.) In the 1960s the beloved pachyderm was slated for demolition, but an impassioned campaign saved her from extermination. Today Lucy’s interior is a museum detailing her colorful history. A guided tour takes about a half-hour, and visitors who climb the twisting stairs to the top are rewarded with expansive views of the Atlantic City skyline.
A Sport-Lovers’ Paradise
A key appeal of Atlantic City, particularly during the warm summer months, is the Jersey Shore—a stretch of free, sandy beach where people can relax and/or work on their tans. Adventurers who crave more athletic pursuits can try parasailing with Atlantic City Parasail or learn to surf from the AC Surf and SUP School. Golf enthusiasts can tee off from one of 20 championship golf courses in the region, while pint-sized players can practice their strokes at Atlantic City Miniature Golf.
Atlantic City Cruises, Inc. offers numerous sightseeing adventures—from dolphin watching and happy hour cruises, to private corporate outings. Trips depart daily from Historic Gardner’s Basin, a protected channel and maritime park. Atlantic City Fishing & Dive Center offers full-service charter sport fishing and shipwreck scuba diving trips, as well as private, tall-ship sightseeing cruises for one to 150 people. Fishing enthusiasts can reel in flounder, striped bass, tuna and shark aboard a catamaran owned by Babu Sport Fishing Charters, Inc., or embark on an ocean adventure with Time Out Charters.
You Won’t Be Bored on the Boardwalk
Atlantic City’s iconic boardwalk is a not-to-be-missed highlight. One of the most pleasant ways to tour the roughly four-mile-long wooden stretch is via bike. B & K Bike Rental, Inc. rents adult, child and tandem bicycles. For those who prefer walking, the boardwalk is a safe and colorful place to stroll. During the day, watch artists creating life-sized sand sculptures or find a sunny bench and people watch. At
night, dine at one of the many restaurants; then have fun at the amusement arcade on Steel Pier, which recently underwent a $100 million renovation and features a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel, among
On the boardwalk be sure to pick up some Atlantic City-themed souvenirs and trinkets, especially the famous fudge and salt water taffy, a seaside specialty for more than 100 years. Shoppers can browse for tax-free, luxury brand clothing and shoes from the likes of Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry at The Pier Shops at Caesars. Speaking of shopping, Atlantic City’s Tanger Outlets The Walk features 100-plus retail outlet stores with discounted fashions and accessories from Nike, Hilfiger, Chico’s, H&M and DKNY. Outdoor enthusiasts await the opening of a 70,000-sqare-foot Bass Pro Shop that will include a nature center and boat showroom.
In recent years Atlantic City has brushed up on its indoor and outdoor arts offerings. Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College is an indoor space featuring galleries and 15 working artist studios. Don’t miss Second Fridays, a monthly celebration where participants can partake in free food and wine, view rotating exhibits, listen to live music and mingle with locals in a friendly, festive environment. The city has converted several empty lots into free, outdoor art parks to display works from local and international artists. After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New Jersey in 2012, artists constructed a permanent sculpture on the boardwalk of wooden planks salvaged from across the storm-riddled Eastern Seaboard.
Atlantic City boasts several poignant outdoor memorials. The tranquil Civil Rights Garden, featuring inspiring words from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, pays homage to the African American struggle to gain civil rights. The New Jersey Korean War Veterans Memorial is a moving tribute to 890 New Jersey citizens who died in that conflict. Also, the Atlantic City Workers Memorial Monument is a tribute to those who lost their lives on construction jobs in AC.
More formal art collections can be found in
Atlantic City’s museums. Noyes Museum of Art houses American fine and folk art, including an array of vintage bird decoys. History buffs will enjoy the newly renovated and nostalgic Atlantic City Historical Museum, which showcases vintage photographs and Miss America and Mr. Peanut memorabilia.
The African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey houses more than 11,000 artifacts about the black experience in America in the 20th century. The collection is rotated monthly. Also, the eccentric Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum features more than 400 oddball exhibits, including a lock of George Washington’s hair.
Atlantic City, located two hours from the Big Apple, holds its own when it comes to culture. In addition to a dizzying calendar of offerings at the casino-resorts, visitors can catch live performances at 240-seat Dante Hall Theater of the Arts in downtown AC, or Broadway-style musicals and children’s theater performances at nearby Stockton Performing Arts Center.
The acclaimed Atlantic City Ballet stages several full length shows per year, and in keeping with its mission of making ballet accessible to everyone, regularly presents free Ballet on the Boardwalk. Since 2000, the Chicken Bone Beach Historical Foundation has also been offering free weekly summer jazz on the boardwalk. Film buffs rave about the Garden State Film Festival, New Jersey’s premier independent film festival, which takes place every March. And foodies love the numerous food and beverage-related festivals that occur throughout the year in AC.
A Winning Bet
Atlantic City is just a short drive, plane or train ride from Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., with easy access to airports and transportation hubs. Although the Northeast captures $16 billion of the nation’s meetings and conventions, AC currently takes in just 1 percent of that business. That may be changing, as the locale’s pleasant seaside location—coupled with its plethora of cultural offerings and many facilities specifically designed to cater to the needs of meeting and convention planners—make Atlantic City a winning gamble.
Caesars Set to Unveil New Gordon Ramsay Eatery
Spirited chef Gordon Ramsay, star of the TV show Hell’s Kitchen, is opening a 250-seat pub-style restaurant at Caesars in Atlantic City this month. Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, a casual, English-inspired eatery and bar, will mirror a similar venue at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
The decor, emphasizing pop culture relics and backdrops of London’s iconic red telephone booths, was designed to be lively and approachable. The space includes a vintage-style lounge, several casual dining rooms and a private dining room. A patio area extends onto the casino floor.
Classic British pub fare such as bangers and mash, fish and chips (pictured), roasted chicken and London broil will be part of a rustic menu that will change seasonally. The bar will highlight craft microbrews, with more than 30 beers on tap.
Four Casinos Fold in 2014
Atlantic City used to be the nation’s second-largest gaming market, however four of its 12 casinos closed in 2014, causing the city to cede the No. 2 gambling market spot to Pennsylvania. (Trump Taj Mahal nearly became AC’s fifth casino fatality; however, at press time, a $20 million lifeline in late December is keeping the doors open—at least temporarily.)
The Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, which shut in January of 2014, was sold to a firm that plans to resurrect the 800-room tower as a residential complex, yet retain the meeting space for social events. Caesars shut down Showboat in late August to reduce competition at its three other AC properties (Caesars, Bally’s and Harrah’s). Sold for $18 million, Showboat is being repurposed as a training hotel for hospitality students at Stockton College. Revel Casino Hotel went belly up in September. In early January, it was sold to real-estate developer Glenn Straub, who wants to turn the resort into a gigantic water park linked to New York City via a high-speed ferry. Trump Plaza also closed in September. Discussions about its future are ongoing.
Spread over 31 acres, this modern facility reflects Atlantic City’s seaside location; five spacious exhibit halls; 500,000 sq. ft. of contiguous space; 45 meetings rooms; 1,400 indoor parking spaces.
Located near the convention center; 1,760 guest rooms; 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; many dining/nightlife options; spa; “Legends in Concert” is the longest running show in Atlantic City.
Open since 1929, it hosted early Miss America pageants and can accommodate up to 14,770; Adrian Phillips ballroom is 23,100 sq. ft.; scheduled events in 2015 include Atlantic City’s 10th annual Beer and Music Festival.
Resort has 2,000 guest rooms; 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; The Water Club at Borgata offers 800 more exclusive rooms; two spas; two nightclubs.
Roman-themed beachfront resort has 1,144 guest rooms; 24,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; opulent spa; upscale restaurants; premier shopping.
Gold Rush-themed property features several bars and restaurants; full-service spa; 740 guest rooms; 42,712 sq. ft. of meeting space; 630-slip marina.
AC’s largest resort property; 2,590 guest rooms; 125,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; indoor tropical pool that transforms into a nightclub; Elizabeth Arden Red Door spa onsite.
AC’s first casino; 942 guest rooms; 39,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; $9.4 million expansion will add 12,000 sq. ft. of event space; Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville is a 17,400-square-foot complex.
Nongaming boutique hotel has 332 guest rooms; 29,800 sq. ft. of meeting space; two restaurants; sea spa with an outdoor saltwater pool.
Large facility is undergoing a $35 million facelift; adding a state-of-the-art fitness center. 2,078 guest rooms; 122,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 24 restaurants; 25 shops; IMAX theatre; 2,000-seat Tropicana Showroom.
Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City’s new, technologically advanced 125,000-square-foot facility; will feature two 50,000-square-foot pillarless ballrooms and up to 63 flexible meeting rooms; projected opening is August.