Atlantic City Mayor: At least we're not Detroit; sees casino condos, Ferris wheel in 2015

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In this Nov. 3, 2014 photo Atlantic City N.J. Mayor Don Guardian speaks in his City Hall office. On Thursday Jan. 15, 2015, Guardian revealed development plans for Atlantic City including condo units in two former casinos, a Ferris wheel at the Steel Pier, and new housing units. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)


In this Nov. 6, 2013 photo Atlantic City, N.J. Mayor Don Guardian speaks to reporters in his city shortly after being elected mayor. On Thursday Jan. 15, 2015, Guardian revealed development plans for Atlantic City including condo units in two former casinos, a Ferris wheel at the Steel Pier, and new housing units. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)


ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Leave it to Don Guardian, the feel-good mayor of ailing Atlantic City, to put his city's woes into context.

Atlantic City lost four of its 12 casinos last year, saw 8,000 jobs eliminated, and has lost nearly half its gambling revenue in the past eight years.

But, he says, "At least we are not Detroit."

Guardian, who took office last year promising the fiscal equivalent of a root canal for his struggling seaside resort, predicts better times in 2015.

In his State of the City speech Thursday, Guardian said two former casinos will offer condo units, a Ferris wheel will open on the Steel Pier, new housing will be built and a college campus opened in another former casino.

The always-sunny Guardian joked that a typical day included three crises before lunch. His speech came hours after a unit of Caesars Entertainment, the global casino giant that owns three of Atlantic City's eight casinos, filed for bankruptcy.

"You know it is a typical day in my administration when you wake up in the morning to find out that Caesars declared bankruptcy, all the elevators at City Hall are down, and there was a water main break at the Public Works yard," he said. "Caesars could've at least waited until after we finished our lunch today before announcing!"

Atlantic City has seen its casino revenue plunge from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.74 billion last year. It is feverishly trying to develop non-gambling attractions to lure tourists and their wallet.

Detroit's problems were a lot worse. Once an industrial powerhouse, the city had billions of dollars of debt in 2013 when it became the largest U.S. city to enter bankruptcy. Factors leading to its downfall include corruption and mismanagement at City Hall, a long decline in the auto industry and massive flight to the suburbs, which turned entire neighborhoods into desolate, boarded-up landscapes.

Detroit emerged from bankruptcy in November with $7 billion less debt and, like Atlantic City, is trying to turn itself around.

Guardian on Thursday revealed details on some Atlantic City development projects that had not previously been announced, including partial plans for two former casinos. He met this week with Glenn Straub, the Florida developer who is buying Revel from bankruptcy court but who has been coy about plans for the property.

Guardian said Straub's plans for Revel include condominium units on upper floors of the former hotel tower, a casino and hotel, restaurants, an indoor water park, and a polo grounds. Straub's attorney, Stuart Moskovitz, said afterward that no plans for the property have been finalized.

The mayor also said the new buyer of the former Atlantic Club casino also plans condominiums there, a hotel, and an "outrageous entertainment feature" that he did not reveal.

He said a previously discussed Ferris wheel at the Steel Pier should open by the end of the year, and noted the former Showboat casino will open in the fall as a campus of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, including a public hotel component.

The Bass pro Shops outlet store and a large conference center at Harrah's Resort Atlantic City will open this year as well.


Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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