As their governor continues to consider a run at the White House Atlantic City begins to re-purpose its former casinos in an attempt to improve their economic circumstances
Chris Christie has a problem, and I’m not talking about his weight, although I suspect if does eventually throw his hat into the ring to run at the White House in 2016 we’ll be hearing a lot more about the health and well-being of the big man from New Jersey. However whilst the modern media era means his appearance is nearly as important as his policies and politics, the main concern his campaign will have should he decide to run will be his record.
Whilst the Republican governor has been cleared of involvement in the Bridgegate scandal, in which members of his team created a scheme to cause politically motivated traffic issues near the George Washington Bridge, the shadow of that instance will hang over any run in the coming two years, the fact that two of his former aides, Bridget Anne Kelly & David Wildstein, concocted the plot without his knowing nearly as bad as his actively being involved in it.
Stockton College Buys Showboat
• Former Casino to be hotel and student accommodation
• Bought for bargain price of $18 million
• Is it a sign of better times ahead for Atlantic City?
However despite this and his appearance, or perceived health issues, being in line to be the mainstay ammunition used against him, there is a wider, deeper source of negative headlines that has been hung around his neck not just by economic circumstance but by his own insistence on making political hay on the back of what, at one time, would have been a sure bet, but in the post fiscal crisis world turned out to be a millstone not cornerstone.
When he stood alongside the great and the good outside the opening of the Revel he was gambling that the new casino would provide much needed employment, with perhaps as many as 5,000 permanent jobs created, “The completion of Revel and its opening is a turning point for Atlantic City and a clear sign that people once again have faith in the city’s ability to come back.” He said, only to be proved entirely wrong just two years later when the Revel closed.
Competition And Fiscal Woes
Gambling news of a success in Atlantic City would kick-start a recovery in the municipality was perhaps in hindsight not the smartest thing the governor has ever done. Atlantic City has this year seen casino closures gut the local economy leaving a whole swathe of the population unemployed and some hulking great monuments to a lack of foresight that should really have seen this contraction in the marketplace coming even before the construction of the Revel began.
The fiscal cliff that the world plunged over in 2007/8 left many economies struggling to recover let alone expand, and the fall in business in Atlantic City was almost instant, but there were other signs too that the one time gambling mecca on the coast was facing a new less certain future. The biggest of these was the slow but inevitable liberalization of US gambling laws as state after state chased the tax revenues from legalized gambling opportunities.
New Jersey might have been one of the few states to legalize limited internet betting in the US, but that was too little too late in face of the massive competition just over state lines in seemingly every direction. Casinos sprang up across the north east and continue to do so, and each time a new one opens the attraction and allure of Atlantic City fades ever more into the historical context of HBO’s “Broadwalk Empire” and fewer people arrive to spend their cash on the coast.
Christie then hung his star on the glittering spires of casino gambling in Atlantic City and thus far has apparently lost his shirt, with the empty casinos on the Broadwalk almost purpose-designed to be
used in campaign adverts against him and his attempt to grab the Republican presidential nomination. However whilst his political machinations are of more interest to the rest of us the actual situation on the ground in Atlantic City is of far more concern to residents.
Stockton Students’ Seaside Suites
One of the major efforts this year, in face of losing a third of its casinos in but a few short months, on
the part of city officials was to find a way to re-purpose the huge buildings left empty by the money men behind the casinos pulling out their investments and leaving them with no option but to close. Several schemes have been put forward but few have met the requirements of the city administrator, with one notable example being that of Stockton College.
Based in the suburbs near Galloway Township the College has always desired an expansion into the city itself and this new circumstance has provided them with the opportunity to do so at a price they can afford. On Friday last the sale of the former Showboat casino to the college was finalized at the knock-down price of $18 million, a complete bargain for a superbly located 852 room building that echos the college’s roots.
The college endowment fund might have stumped up millions for this new campus building that will both house students and be part run as a open-to-the-public hotel, but in comparisons with building a new facility from scratch the economic bottom line meant this was a superb opportunity for the college and city. Renamed the Stockton Island Campus it is expected the hotel portion will open next spring with full academic courses beginning in the following fall.
Whether this expansion of the college will have a knock-on effect vis-a-vis the local economy is still highly questionable, and its central role as an education center for the gaming and hospitality industries might well be chasing a declining industry’s demands, however this re-use of an old casino perhaps signposts enough of a recovery for Chris Christie and his campaign to spin it as an indication of better times ahead for Atlantic City, and his own chances for a shot at the White House in 2016.