Mayor: Atlantic City to Be More Business Friendly
Atlantic City's new mayor promises to make the city more business-friendly.
Acknowledging that the seaside gambling resort finds itself in "troubled waters," Don Guardian said the city needs to find a way out of them. Speaking at an economic development forum on Friday, the new Republican mayor said the city has already made changes to ease the process of investing and building in Atlantic City.
Guardian said he can't ask Republican Gov. Chris Christie or Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney for more money.
"We're going to bring the city back. I have to figure out how to get the dollars," he said.
The city is installing software linking departments such as construction, planning, zoning and licensing, to speed applications. City Hall also will open at 6:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 p.m. so that contractors can pick up permits before starting work.
Guardian promises that by July 4, streets outside the city's tourism district will get the same level of cleaning, landscaping and other attention as that state-run zone.
The mayor also repeated his plan to offer plots of land for free to people who will build on them and pay taxes quickly.
His comments came after the chairman of Atlantic County's freeholder board gave a pessimistic assessment of how well a series of state incentives and programs has fared over the past three years in improving Atlantic City's fortunes.
"You can't deny what's happening," said Frank Formica, who owns a landmark bakery in Atlantic City. "Our efforts so far have not given us great efforts. But we hope they will."
Tim Lizura, president of the state Economic Development Authority, toured Atlantic City Friday morning with Guardian and came away convinced that the new mayor is serious about spurring new development.
"I think for the first time we've got the right people on the property to make a meaningful difference," Lizura said.
John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, cited numerous nongambling projects in which the state agency has invested, including a new Bass Pro Shops outlet opening this year and a new convention center being built by Caesars Entertainment on the Harrah's property in the marina district. The agency is also acquiring blighted properties and razing dilapidated buildings to try to assemble buildable plots for developers by next year, particularly in the Inlet district near Revel Casino Hotel.
Atlantic City has been emphasizing nongambling attractions as its 11 casinos continue to struggle with growing competition in surrounding states. Its gambling revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion in 2006 to under $3 billion last year.
Wasseem Boraie, a New Brunswick developer, outlined his company's plan for a project in the area mixing 250 units of housing, retail and other uses. He said workers in industries including casinos and health care, need housing. The project was announced under the previous mayor, Lorenzo Langford, who Guardian defeated in November.
Boraie said Atlantic City is a market of pent-up demand.
"Everyone can see the acorn in the tree, but can you see the tree in the acorn?" he asked.
(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)