Atlantic City skyline
Atlantic City’s concerted efforts to attract more meetings are paying off
Atlantic City is experiencing a major meetings boom, and the exciting news is that it’s just the beginning of a concerted citywide effort.
“The Atlantic City hotels and casino resorts have made a collective effort to grow their share of the meetings and convention market,” says Jim Wood, who has served as president and CEO of Meet AC, the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Bureau, since June 2014. “We are very pleased with the growth of the meetings market. Demand for it has grown 85 percent over the past 2 1/2 years and shows no signs of slowing down.”
Meet AC was formed in 2014 to grow Atlantic City’s meetings market. At the time, the city booked around 350,000 meeting rooms per year; this year, the total will approach 600,000.
Several factors are contributing to this significant growth, including renovations and additions to guest rooms and meeting space at existing hotels and resorts, as well as the opening of new properties, restaurants and attractions. Combined with the city’s other properties and attractions, including world-famous Atlantic City Beach & Boardwalk, they create an enticing package for planners.
Wood lauds the city’s plethora of options.
“When a meeting planner selects Atlantic City, they are getting a resort destination that offers world-class entertainment, gaming, fabulous beaches, championship golf courses, plus world-class dining and exciting nightclubs,” he says.
Big Changes at Large Properties
The opening of Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in September 2015 marked a turning point in Atlantic City’s efforts to attract more meeting groups. It added 125,000 sq. ft. of attractive meeting space to the 2,587-room Harrah’s Atlantic City hotel.
“The new Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center has made a significant contribution to the growth of Atlantic City’s meetings market,” Wood says. “Their product appeals to several meeting segments which we were not attracting prior to their opening. Because of the Waterfront Conference Center, we were able to host MPI WEC and TEAMS Expo Conference in 2016.”
Wood says the new conference center serves as a nice complement to Atlantic City Convention Center, which provides 500,000 sq. ft. of contiguous meeting space, five spacious exhibit halls and 45 meeting rooms.
Another major property, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, revealed this year that it would be spending $50 million on renovation projects, including the addition of 25,000 sq. ft. of conference space on two levels that will include a 7,000-square-foot ballroom, four meeting rooms, a boardroom, an office and a prefunction area on each level. This will supplement the 2,000-room property’s current 70,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, plus 18,000 sq. ft. at the Water Club next door. Plans also called for a 3,200-square-foot outdoor pool and beer garden.
Borgata also opened a new 18,000-square-foot nightclub, Premier, that is designed to give clubs in Las Vegas, New York City and Miami a run for their money. It features tiered booths that tilt toward a deejay station, a 25-foot-wide digitally programmed chandelier, 35-foot-long, carved-stone bars and a horseshoe-shaped mezzanine.
“The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has done a tremendous job of offering the right mix of venues to attract a diverse audience,” Wood says. “They have consistently remained ahead of the curve by listening to their customers and responding accordingly, which is why they are a very successful property.”
Also, Tropicana Casino & Resort Atlantic City finalized a $50 million renovation recently that included hotel room upgrades, boardwalk facade enhancements and expansion throughout the property. The new multimillion-dollar AtlantiCare LifeCenter features a state-of-the-art gym facility and equipment.
Tropicana recently announced a $25 million renovation that will re-do 500 hotel rooms in its Havana Tower by this spring, remake the South Tower casino area and add a high-limit slot area near the casino’s Palm Walk. The project also will include a facelift for Jade Palace, its Asian gambling room. Ivan Kane’s Kiss Kiss a Go-Go nightclub opened last spring and Cuba Libre Restaurant & Bar has added a new Latin grill.
The property provides 2,078 guest rooms and 122,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Key Reopenings and Expansions
Several other properties have been in the news during this active transitional period. Ten Casino & Resort is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2017. The beachfront resort closed in September 2014 after its occupant, Revel Hotel Atlantic City, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time.
The rebranded property will feature a new look and feel, including several amenities that appeal to millennials and younger Gen-Xers, as well as 1,399 guest rooms, 160,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor meeting and event space, 90,000 sq. ft. of unique outdoor event/function space, 13 restaurants, a 32,000-square-foot spa and 55,000 sq. ft. of retail space.
“We are all very excited about the reopening of Ten,” Wood says. “Having it reopen will send a positive message that Atlantic City is still a thriving and vibrant destination. We are currently booking group business into Ten and look forward to hosting numerous conferences in this amazing resort.”
The Claridge Hotel, now a Radisson property, reopened in 2014 as a fully restored historic hotel. It features 500 refurbished guest rooms and a renovated ballroom. The 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes 15,000 sq. ft. that was added this past summer to meet a growing demand. The meeting space features a 6,400-square-foot room that is ideal for general sessions or small trade shows and four smaller conference and board rooms.
Other highlights at The Claridge include the opening of The Vue Rooftop Bar & Lounge, Atlantic City’s first rooftop bar, which provides outdoor and indoor event space (see Explore sidebar).
“The renovations and the addition of meeting space have made The Claridge very appealing to a variety of groups that want a beachfront resort destination but may not want a gaming resort,” Wood says.
Resorts Casino Hotel, a Mohegan Sun property, finalized phase one of a larger room renovation project in its Ocean Tower last summer. It was the initial stage of an estimated $25 million project that also included a complete renovation of hotel rooms by providing new bathrooms, furniture, windows, window treatments, wallpaper, carpet, artwork and linens.
The 942-room property’s convention center, which opened in 2015, has been garnering immediate returns, driving a 30 percent increase in the booking pace in 2016. The $4.7 million space added 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 6,500-square-foot ballroom and 12 meeting rooms. The expansion brought Resorts Casino Hotel’s meeting space to 64,000 sq. ft., with 24 meeting and event rooms, including four ballrooms and a showroom.
Showboat Hotel reopened as a fully functioning property in July 2016 with 872 guest rooms. The hotel, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, is planning to add meeting space and restaurants, but details have not yet been released.
Attendees are raving about The Vue Rooftop Bar & Lounge, a cozy new addition to The Claridge Hotel. Located on the 23rd floor, The Vue has a huge balcony that stretches around the entire building, providing 360-degree views of the city and Atlantic Ocean. Featuring eclectic dining and signature cocktails, the new bar, a favorite of millennials, is a top gathering spot for groups.
Tanger Outlets The Walk is Atlantic City’s premier outlet shopping area, with more than 100 tax-free retail stores. In April 2015, it welcomed a very big addition—the 85,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops. Along with standard and hard-to-find fishing, boating, hunting and camping goods, the store features faux trees and animals, as well as a cool aquarium.
It’s not new at all—in fact, it dates back to 1857—but Absecon Lighthouse remains one of Atlantic City’s most popular attractions. The 228-step lighthouse still has its original first-order Fresnel lens, which was installed when the structure was built. At 171 feet tall, it’s the third-tallest lighthouse in the United States, and offers superb views of the Atlantic. Other highlights include a museum and a gift shop.
Atlantic City Beach & Boardwalk is arguably the city’s prime attraction, not only because of its iconic status as the first boardwalk in the United States, but also because of its fabulous views, casino/hotels, restaurants, amusements and retail stores.
One of the most recent developments is that work has begun on extending the inlet section of the boardwalk into Gardner’s Basin, a maritime park in a protected channel along the back bays, across from the state marina and Coast Guard station. This will provide patrons with a quiet reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the current 5-mile boardwalk stretch.
Another exciting development is the planned addition of an observation wheel ride at the boardwalk’s Steel Pier, a 1,000-foot-long area of amusement options. The observation wheel, which is slated to open in July, will feature 42 climate-controlled cars that can provide heat in the winter and air conditioning during the summer.