Atlantic City officials are hoping that the Revel resort will make enough of a splash to usher in a new era of tourism in their town. To help things along, they kicked off a $20 million rebranding effort last month that’s designed to bring more visitors to the seaside destination.
Heading it up is John F. Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which uses casino revenue to help fund improvement projects in Atlantic City and across the state. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) tapped Palmieri to lead the agency last fall. New Jersey lawmakers last year also granted the authority power to manage planning and development in a special Tourism District that covers about half the city.
Palmieri, whose résumé includes stints in Providence, R.I., Boston and Hartford, Conn., spoke to Travel’s Becky Krystal about his agency’s vision for Atlantic City’s future. Edited excerpts:
What message do you hope the new Revel resort will send to people who might not have considered Atlantic City as a destination?
It really is kind of a new model in a very significant way to focus on the things that have non-gaming orientation, and Revel, [Revel chief executive ] Kevin DeSanctis and others are really looking at all the other things — the entertainment, the restaurants, the spa, the related beach-type activities — that they’ll be promoting.
Are there other similar projects that this is setting the stage for?
I think that all the casino ownership teams are looking at what do to expand and promote their non-gaming features. With that in mind, I know that Borgata and Taj have talked to us, and I think every other hotel group — Caesars and Harrah’s — are discussing what they can do to broaden their appeal beyond gaming.
How do you balance the emphasis on non-gaming entertainment with the fact that the authority is funded by gambling proceeds?
To the extent that we can attract more visits, we’ll all be well served, because I’d like to think that some of those visits will affect gaming. My wife and I live in the city now, and we live right behind the Revel. And we’ve been to a few of the casinos now for musical events and entertainment activities, and we end up spending 50 bucks as we leave, on a lark, more or less. So I think that there’s some sense that if these other complementary activities succeed, they’ll get more than their fair share of gaming revenue as well.
What can we expect out of the Tourism District that will benefit visitors?
Everyone — our consultants, our staff and the community — all said it’s got to start on the boardwalk. We’ve agreed to make a loan of $6 million to help [the Steel Pier amusement park] get through their first phase of improvements, which is the installation of some new rides and some other basic improvements to the pier itself to make it a more attractive place. Lighting was considered to be an important thing. People are going to feel comfortable walking the boardwalk. We’ve made a commitment to expand by threefold or fourfold the number of ambassadors we have on the boardwalk now. You’ve first and foremost got to create a clean and safe environment. We want to do more arts-related activities on the boardwalk.
What sort of perceptions of Atlantic City are you combating?
Most people think, “Hey, it’s this older, tired gaming city,” and it really isn’t at all.
Do you have a favorite spot in the city?
Gardner’s Basin has a few really great eateries. We go there often for dinner or breakfast. I enjoy going to Caesars pier. What makes it so beautiful is that everything is surrounded by windows facing the ocean and the boardwalk. I’m probably spending more of my disposable income at the Walk [outlet mall] . . . than I would have imagined.