The push for more non-gaming revenue for AC
There's almost $1 billion this year in non-gaming revenue being generated in Atlantic City, a fact that's being lost in the gaming glut happening nationwide, according to Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance.
"And it really relates to the vibrant entertainment, the nightlife, the food and beverage options, as well as sort of the ancillary entertainment activities," Cartmell said.
Cartmell said Atlantic City is faced with an economic transition that can't be accomplished overnight because it's dealing with major infrastructure investments. She said hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to really change the façade of all the buildings that face the boardwalk.
"But the mechanisms and the partnerships are in place to accomplish that, but I don't think that people really focus on the fact that if you go back as soon as, say, five years ago, only about 20 percent of the business was non-gaming business in Atlantic City," Cartmell said. "Where I think the most recent 12 months were trending something closer to 28 percent, maybe 28 ½ percent that is non-gaming revenue."
Although there is progress and forward momentum in changing the mix of business in Atlantic City, Cartmell said "it's just not something you can wave a magic wand and transform."
She used Las Vegas as an example, pointing out that two decades ago, that city was roughly 70 percent gaming and 30 percent non-gaming.
"And now it's the reverse. It's 30 percent gaming and 70 percent non-gaming, but it took them 20 years to get there," Cartmell said.
A lot of it deals with not just broadening the entertainment, but also broadening the business that comes for conventions and meetings. Cartmell said investments are being made in conference centers and changes are being put in place to more aggressively sell the Convention Center.
"There's a new head that's been brought in to really take over new not-for-profit, who's tasked with just selling the Convention Center very aggressively without the restrictions that a government agency is operating under," she said.
According to Cartmell, this effort will significantly change the mix of business in Atlantic City to leverage the assets that are here and have been in place, but haven't been as well leveraged in the past.
She said the sale of the 500-room Claridge Hotel property is in the process of being transformed.
"It was sold to a developer from Florida and it will be refurbished next fall, the rooms, but in the meantime, they're tearing up the casino floor.They're going to be installing a whole new complex of retail right on the street level which will be open to Pacific Avenue," Cartmell said.
She said it will be a massive gallery that will be selling art by 50 different national purveyors. On the upper level, a proposal is being considered to install a children's museum, which Cartmell said will provide another destination attraction.
"So, the 500 rooms will also be able to be used for group meetings. They'll be used for general tourism, and it is up and running currently and an independent entity," she said.
Other changes, such as the Golden Nugget converting the former bus depot into a successful nightclub, Resorts investing in the Margaritaville and the Landshark Grill complex and redoing the façade on the boardwalk and creating a 365-day "right on the beach" food and beverage dining destination, are all part of the transformation, according to Cartmell.
"Tropicana just completely last year redid their façade and put eight new dining destinations," she said, adding that Bally's and Harrah's also recently installed new food and beverage options.
"We're not alone in facing a gaming glut. It's happening elsewhere," Cartmell said. "You look at what's closing and revenues that are currently declining across the whole region, not just in Atlantic City now. And we get it, and we're in process of making the changes."