ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Rebuilding the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk to enable it to survive future severe storms; improving the look of the city’s main downtown business districts; helping people in underserved communities, and embracing the “blue economy” of the ocean are among recommendations from a state-appointed panel studying ways to improve the seaside gambling resort.
It suggested money from legalized recreational marijuana sales could help pay for the work.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday released a report from the The Atlantic City Restart and Recovery Working Group, designed to provide a roadmap for the city to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It was the only such group the state created focusing on just one city’s recovery from the outbreak.
It included some well-worn recommendations that have already been tried to varying degrees — make the city’s economy less reliant on the casino industry, spruce up rundown commercial corridors and provide more for youths to do.
But it also went into deep detail on programs to help Atlantic City’s residents, suggesting things like an early pregnancy outreach program and increasing services to treat drug abuse and poor nutrition, among other challenges. It called for creation of new residential neighborhoods.
And it placed considerable emphasis on developing a so-called “blue economy,” involving the nascent offshore wind energy industry, fisheries, eco-tourism and wastewater management industries, in which Atlantic City could play a leading role.
“We are facing a recovery challenge unlike any Atlantic City and the state has faced,” said Murphy, a Democrat. “But every challenge also brings with it opportunities. The working group’s report has identified many of these opportunities and we intend to move forward on a number of them as we emerge from the pandemic.”
“Atlantic City has bounced back from adversity time and time again, and it will be no different with COVID-19,” added Mayor Marty Small.
It did not identify any new funding for the initiatives, but it did hint at one.
“The state should consider the opportunities that may be created by new initiatives, including the legalization of recreational use marijuana, as potential sources of political and financial support for the efforts to restart and recover Atlantic City,” the report said.
The group also said rebuilding the Boardwalk, which it called “the symbol of Atlantic City to the world,” needs to be a top priority.
“It is currently in an advanced state of disrepair, and in several places could well collapse in the near future,” the report read. “If the meteorologists are correct in predicting future costal storms, there is also the possibility that one of those storms could wipe out the Boardwalk in its present condition, unless it has been rebuilt, with disastrous and wide-spread negative implications for everything that we want to do to restart and recover Atlantic City.”
The report said a commitment by the state and city to rebuild the Boardwalk within the next two to three years would send a powerful signal that both parties “are really all-in” on improving Atlantic City.
The report also built on a previous document issued in 2018, when the state was two years into its takeover of Atlantic City’s main decision-making powers — a situation that remains in place today. It was signed into law under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie but extended by his Democratic successor, Murphy.
It echoed a longstanding criticism of Atlantic City: That visitors will not feel safe or welcome in areas they perceive to be run-down, including Pacific Avenue, where six of the nine casinos are located, and Atlantic Avenues, a main downtown business district.
The report called for “refreshing the structures and appearances” of those two streets.
“These are the two main thoroughfares in Atlantic City, and if these were given a new and refreshing look it could give a new facade to the City,” the report read. “This was done in Baltimore harbor and tremendous benefits were reaped by that city.”
It noted several projects are already under way with those goals in mind.