Upgrades eyed for Atlantic City in state plan

WAYNE PARRY Associated Press Published:

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- A dazzling Boardwalk pulsating with light, music, recreation and entertainment, surrounded by pedestrian-friendly enclaves away from the casinos is the vision of Atlantic City's future adopted Wednesday by a state agency tasked with turning around the struggling seaside resort.

And the world-famous Diving Horse that helped put Atlantic City's Boardwalk on the map may even return.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved a plan to revive Atlantic City. The newly empowered agency is tasked with carrying out Gov. Chris Christie's plan to turn around the nation's second-largest gambling market.

"A successful, vibrant Atlantic City is vital to the economic growth of both the regional and state economies," Christie said. "Exactly one year to the day of signing landmark legislation that established the Atlantic City Tourism District, we now have an ambitious, visionary road map that will transform Atlantic City and lead its comeback."

The plan aims to create pedestrian-centered attractions around the casinos, spruce up the Boardwalk and the Atlantic and Pacific avenue commercial districts. It also seeks to increase entertainment and recreational offerings, and make sure visitors feel safe in Atlantic City.

Christie wants to give the resort five years to improve before reconsidering whether to expand casino gambling to the Meadowlands and other areas of New Jersey.

The centerpiece of the plan is the revitalization of the entire length of Boardwalk, the first in the nation. It is designed to create a unique environment that can only be found in Atlantic City.

The beach side of the Boardwalk will host three entertainment venues -- an open air concert shell, an animated interactive light show, and giant wind-driven sculpture. In between will be a series of corporate pavilions sponsored by entertainment and consumer product companies that will constantly change their offerings. There also will be lights, banners and street furniture that recall Atlantic City's historic past.

The owners of the Steel Pier said Wednesday they will try to bring back The Diving Horse, an attraction in which a horse plunged off the pier into a pool with a bathing beauty clinging to its neck.

The plan unveiled and approved Wednesday does not specify how the attractions will be paid for, when they will be built, or by whom. George Ladyman, senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle., a consulting firm that helped develop the plan, called it "a visioning document intended to serve as a guide for public and private development strategies that will be phased in over the next ten years."

The plan also recommends the development of seasonal events, most of which will occur along the Boardwalk and on the beach, and will be managed by a consulting group retained by CRDA.

"The first step in revitalizing Atlantic City and increasing tourism is to focus on Atlantic City's prime jewels and top tourist attractions, like the Boardwalk, by creating a vibrant and pedestrian-oriented environment in the casino core that offers outdoor events throughout the year and an active around-the-clock street scene," said John Simones, partner and design director of The Jerde Partnership, which also helped come up with the plan.

It calls for making the decidedly down-at-the-heels Pacific Avenue, parts of which are blighted by boarded up buildings and frequented by streetwalkers, into a tourist attraction all its own along the lines of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

The street's parking lots and casino service areas would be replaced with trendy restaurants, bars, shops and nightclubs. Jitneys and taxis would provide nonstop service so that visitors won't have to drive. And the entrances to the casinos would be integrated with the streetscape, encouraging people to move freely between gambling and a street party -- something the casinos have vigorously resisted for 34 years by trying to keep gamblers ensconced within their walls for as long as possible.

A block further inland, Atlantic Avenue is designed to become the "main street" of Atlantic City, offering residents and tourists elements of a well-functioning city. The authority envisions replacing the security grills and poor signage that currently line the street with attractive storefronts, sidewalks with trees, flowers and brick paving. Better lighting will help enhance security.

The plan also envisions a series of connected neighborhoods along Atlantic Avenue's two-mile path, including large arts and boutique districts to the west of a revitalized central business district, along with a college district and a mixed-use residential development along the water in the South Inlet area.

It also encourages an expansion of The Walk, the successful retail outlet shopping district, in order to connect the central business district to Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC