by Lisa A. Grimaldi | August 01, 2014
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian
 Even by recent standards (including Superstorm Sandy in 2012), the past few months have to be among the roughest Atlantic City has ever faced.

Gaming revenues have dwindled to $2.8 billion, nearly half of what they were in 2006. In addition to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Connecticut luring gamblers, two more states in the region -- Massachusetts and New York -- are close to awarding licenses for gaming resorts.

And last month, the owners of Atlantic City's Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino announced plans to shut down the 906-room property on Sept. 16. In January, the 804-room Atlantic Club was shuttered (developers plan to convert it to a nongaming resort/condo complex), and Caesars Entertainment will close the 1,300-room Showboat Atlantic City at the end of this month. A fourth property, the 1,800-room Revel Casino Hotel, filed for bankruptcy for the second time in June and warned employees they could be laid off this month if a buyer can't be found.

To survive and thrive in the future, city leaders are hoping Atlantic City can transition from a gaming-centric destination to one that draws visitors on the basis of its other strengths: entertainment, dining and shopping. Unlike gaming, these other areas -- which include The Walk, the city's shopping-outlet district -- have grown in the past two years and now account for nearly $1 billion in revenue for the city annually.

"Atlantic City's revitalization won't happen overnight, but as we continue to diversify our offerings, attract new investment, maximize our material assets, and identify new and innovative ways to promote our differentiating characteristics, Atlantic City will grow stronger and stand taller for having experienced its recent challenges," said Mayor Don Guardian during a recent teleconference.

The city has attracted more than $700 million in capital investment, with more than $290 million in process, to continue to grow the market's nongaming amenities, according to John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees tourism and development in Atlantic City. To this end, the city has inaugurated new events, such as the DO AC Sand Sculpting World Cup, designed to appeal to a wide range of visitors.

Leaders also are putting a renewed emphasis on meetings to boost the city's economy. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority recently spun off its meeting and convention development into a new body, Meet AC, to handle sales and marketing efforts. The organization, which is spearheaded by CEO James Woods, has increased its staff and had its budget tripled from the days when it was the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority.

Plus, the destination has boosted airlift: United has begun daily service from Chicago and Houston to Atlantic City International Airport. Previously, Spirit Airlines was the only large carrier to fly there.