Great Expectations for Casino-Hotel, Revel
by robert strauss
In anticipation of Revel's additions on the entertainment scene, the summer and fall will be filled with big names in Atlantic City. Caesars is sponsoring Madonna at Boardwalk Hall, and Metallica and Phish are scheduled to be headliners at separate music festivals at Bader Field, the former city airport. "It's no longer just some oldies acts, but rather everything from hip-hop to country to Metallica," says Marrandino. "We want to cater to everyone. Every night someone will have something booked."
That pleases the scene-watchers in Atlantic City. Raymond Tyler grew up in town—he's part of Atlantic City High's class of 1986—and he currently hosts a music and interview show on local station WNJC. "Anytime a new casino opens, it brings a lot of buzz, and that hasn't happened for a long time," says Tyler. "Hopefully, it lives up to the hype and brings more tourists of all types. I always like to remain positive about Atlantic City, the glass half-full."
Pinky Kravitz came to live in Atlantic City 78 years ago, when he was six. Five years later, he got his first job on the Boardwalk, and he has not stopped promoting Atlantic City since, as "Mr. Atlantic City"—via his newspaper columns, radio shows, and TV exposure. This recent phase of building has not escaped his notice or his joy. "For millions of years, we had the beach, the Boardwalk, and entertainment, and now for more than 30 years, we have had casino-hotels, but we have never really had cooperation between everyone—and now, this $30 million to spend on marketing," says Kravitz.
Kravitz helped to bring a bit of spectacle back to the Boardwalk, organizing a parade honoring the Armed Services during the Atlantic City Air Show. For many years the Boardwalk was the site of a parade of all the Miss America Pageant contestants, and he hopes a similar crowd will be on hand for his August 15 event.
"There is more of a push for different kinds of crowds, too," he says, pointing to things like midget car races, the Eastern Collegiate hockey tournament, and last year's first indoor rodeo at Boardwalk Hall. "Who would have thought 18,000 people would come in for [the rodeo]? That is astounding, and brings yet a different set of people to see Atlantic City."
Liza Cartmell, a former Aramark executive, will be searching for those new crowds as the head of the recently minted Atlantic City Alliance, the not-for-profit created by the Christie legislation to coordinate the $30 million marketing campaign. For the first time, there will be a blitz of television and print advertising about the city up and down the Northeast urban corridor. Las Vegas spends a cool $115 million in marketing, Cartmell notes; what she has to spend has to be judiciously doled out. "The program has to show people that there is more than gaming here," says Cartmell. "So we will show them the lighthouse, The Walk outlet mall, the entertainment, the marina, the beaches—even things farther down the Shore, like Victorian Cape May."
The city has long been regarded as a place you would visit but where you would never live. Palmieri, himself a resident of an upscale high rise near Revel, is hoping to reverse that perception and sees plenty of open land as a chance to build infill housing—if not for vacationers, then for workers. Dean Weisgold, a Center City lawyer, has already bought in. With his wife and his young son, he lives in a condo a half block from the beach, south of the casino district. "We're not big gamblers, but we love walking on the Boardwalk in the evening, and there is a wide beach that is free," says Weisgold. "We looked at about 30 places, and we are really pleased. This isn't a place with crack addicts and crazy people, like people seem to think. Everyone is friendly; they see you on the Boardwalk and all say hi. We feel completely safe."
Easy access to Atlantic City's vast restaurant scene is yet another alluring option for potential homeowners. That is why Kevin DeSanctis, CEO of Revel, put 14 of them in the new casino-hotel. "It used to be going out to eat was something you did before something else, like go to the movies," he says. "Now, it is what you do. And sometimes you want casual, and sometimes you want fancy. Atlantic City has attracted big-name chefs from all over. That is part of the renaissance. People may just come to Atlantic City for dinner, gamble a little, and go home. That's okay, too."
It is still a tenuous time here, and all the new schemes and amenities may not pan out. But the dream of Atlantic City is not unlike a phoenix, rising after every crash-and-burn.
Steven Perskie, the young state legislator who shepherded and cajoled the original casino push in the 1970s, still practices law—and resides on nearby Absecon Island. "We live on a barrier island, and every one of us, every week or every day, has business engagements off the island," says Perskie. "When I come home, I usually use the bridge in Margate closest to my house. When you come around the bend, the trees stop and you look out over the panorama of the city and see the lights and the buildings and the skyline. It has been 30 years since this got started, but I never look at the skyline without feeling a tremendous rush of gratification and pleasure," he says. "I didn't build it alone—there were thousands of other people—and everything hasn't been perfect. But I am very proud and satisfied that this was the right thing for Atlantic City."
ILLUSTRATIONS BY DANIEL O'LEARY