How Will Changes In AC Impact Brigantine’s Future?

Brigantine Casino

Big changes have come to Atlantic City, and, as always, the fortunes of Brigantine are closely tied to those of The World’s Playground.

The island’s future cannot help but be hugely impacted by however things play out across the bridge. At the moment, things seem pretty bleak, but there are a few proposals and grand plans in place to salvage Atlantic City’s economy. Will the variety of ideas being bandied about actually come to pass? And, if so, what will be the effect on Brigantine in the long-term?

Of course, without a crystal ball there are no definitive answers to these questions, but for the sake of this discussion we can indulge in a bit of of cautious optimism from the start and presume that at least some of these projects will happen. On the not-so-optimistic side, we must also consider the damage caused by the recent spate of casino closings, and what the resulting changes in the economic landscape will mean to Brigantine.

With the loss of the Showboat, Atlantic Club, Trump Plaza, and possibly Taj Mahal, the casino industry in Atlantic City has been irreparably damaged.

While the Borgata continues to thrive, its only rival in scale and glitz, the Revel, also closed down, and even worse, plans for another conglomerate to purchase the Revel have recently fallen through. What makes this worse is what we all know as The Domino Effect. For every casino that closes from here on out, Atlantic City becomes less and less of a destination, as well as becoming poison to potential developers or investors. Furthermore, for every gaming house that closes, that’s millions less in gaming revenue to pay for improvements. This could create a vicious cycle of deeper economic woes, further closings, and so on.

Already cutbacks and contract renegotiations have begun among municipal employees.  It is imperative that Atlantic City find a way to return to its former glory, however it must not do so in a short-sighted way that could negatively impact the surrounding communities. What’s questionable is if this is possible, with the current plans in place.

Historically, Brigantine’s fate has been closely tied to the casino industry in Atlantic City.

Long before casino gaming was legalized, back in the Diving Horse, straw-hat days, Atlantic City was a tourist destination at a time when there were not that many to visit. Easy access to Philly and New York made Atlantic City a convenient getaway for area vacationers. At the time, Brigantine was little more than a quaint little island tucked at the back end of the Boardwalk.

In the days immediately preceding the legalization of gambling, Atlantic City was not exactly a hive of activity, with the exception of the yearly Miss America Pageant. The economy was in the toilet, construction was virtually nonexistent, and many families, including my own, were forced to relocate to places where work was available.

The advent of casino gaming changed everything. Almost overnight, giant construction projects sprang from the ground. Finished casinos hired thousands of area residents. Businesses to serve the needs of the casinos were started by local entrepreneurs, alongside other new businesses to serve the many visitors attracted by the glamour and glitz of the casinos. The entire area saw unprecedented growth as a result of the infusion of casino money.

Brigantine underwent a huge change. For a long time, it seemed like if you weren’t building a casino, you were working at one. In one way or another, most residents could trace their greatly enhanced standard of living back to the existence of the casinos. Entire developments sprang up to accommodate the influx of casino employees seeking nearby housing, and local businesses thrived. The rising popularity of Atlantic City throughout the 80’s and 90’s led to a corresponding rise in island property values and the development of an overall upper-middle class environment in primarily blue-collar Brigantine.

Things have only grown since then. Property values have risen even higher as the island became a popular place to build a palatial summer home, a trend which shows no sign of abating.

Now we fast-forward to today, when then casino era has plateaued and begun to decline. The loss of jobs resulting from the casino closings extends far beyond those who worked directly for the casinos themselves. Many local businesses depend on the patronage of the casinos to survive. Even businesses not directly affected by the closings will have to acknowledge that a much larger percentage of potential customers are out of work and may have to make corresponding cutbacks.

The first real attempt at reversing the trend came with Stockton State College’s purchase of the Showboat property. On the surface, this seems great. It’s certainly better than leaving the building vacant. However, the material benefits may not be as substantial as first assumed. First of all, exactly what kind of prosperity does opening a Stockton annex in Atlantic City create? Will it generate revenue for the city? Sure, it will attract more students, and those students will probably keep the local pizza shop and Starbucks afloat, but the majority will not be here gambling. Their tuition goes to the school.

Rumors have been going around that Stockton plans to open a hospitality school on the new campus, although it seems strange to create a new surplus of hospitality workers at a time when casinos are closing at an unprecedented rate and those already in the hospitality field will be competing for an ever-shrinking job pool.

Some other questions raised by this proposal regard the environment in which the new campus will be located. Will the entire area around Showboat be remodeled to be more suited to students, filling the neighborhood with college-friendly businesses? Or will the students exit the school into the blighted wasteland of the South Inlet, which was never very savory even before the casinos on that end of the city went dark? If the hotel towers are to be used as student dormitories, as has been rumored, is that really the best environment in which to house young people?

Will students have a choice, or will some kid who enrolled in expectation of the pastoral surroundings of the Pomona campus suddenly find himself wandering the most desolate area of the city? Let’s not forget the troubles caused by having the old Atlantic City High School in such close proximity to the Boardwalk and casinos. College kids will be faced with even more temptation.

Economically speaking, what kind of employment opportunities would this particular project create? What kind of jobs are there on a college campus for thousands of newly unemployed people whose previous careers were as a dealer, cocktail waitress or pit-boss? Lucrative casino jobs will be replaced by low-paying service jobs, such as mixing freshmen their pre-class lattes, or working the counter at one of the ancillary businesses that will open to service the students. The jobs that may be created by this project will not compare in number or compensation with the jobs lost by the casino closings, nor with the resulting losses and layoffs felt by those who did businesses with those casinos.

Atlantic City’s government has stated their intention to transform the city from a casino town with some family attractions into a family destination resort that also has some casinos.

On its face, this sounds smart, especially considering the recent downturn in the local gaming industry. Resorts’ announcement of their intention to build a new convention center is a ray of hope through the dark clouds. However, there is one reality that many have failed to consider. Just as in Las Vegas and other gambling towns, all those family attractions, concerts and sporting events happen for one reason and one reason alone: To get gamblers in the casino. The bigger the event, the bigger the night’s “drop”. That’s why casinos can attract big-name artists, famous chefs and pay a Mike Tyson $50 million for 5 minutes’ work.

Few, if any, of these attractions are money-makers in and of themselves. They are simply there to lure folks through the gaming area and separate them from as much money as possible.

Without the big casino payoffs, which are only available as a result in the bump in gambling activity brought on by a big event, it is hard to imagine how Atlantic City will be able to attract the big names and events that will be necessary if the transition is to be made from casino town to family resort destination. The reality is that people do not visit casino towns specifically to check out the sideshow attractions. Nobody books a flight to Atlantic City to go see Lucy the Elephant. The casinos are the foundation of the city’s economy, and everything else is just sights to see on the way to the next casino.

Take the casinos out of the equation and Atlantic City is just another shore town with a few diversions, but hardly a family resort destination. Even with non-casino attractions added, family resorts are so common these days that to stand out, Atlantic City will have to go to almost Disney-esque lengths to create a year-round attraction that will restore the area’s economy to former levels.

And where will the money come from for all these grand projects, considering the great loss of casino revenue? Already the city employees have taken a hit. With the surplus of available casino employees, it’s only a matter of time before the remaining casinos start to flex their muscles and attempt to renegotiate contracts, as first Donald Trump and now Carl Icahn have demanded concessions from employee unions in exchange for saving the property. Icahn, who previously stated that he’d sooner leave the building vacant than tolerate the existing contracts, has now at least backed off a bit and offered health care in return for the unions dropping their appeal against the termination of their contract.

The State and Federal Governments will only give so much emergency aid before they start looking to take over control of the city’s finances. In fact, there are those who suspect that many of these plans and promises are being made in an attempt to stave off the necessity of just such an occurrence. City governments are not fond of the implication of incompetence that comes with a State takeover, and most mayors will promise the world to keep the Governor from taking control of the purse strings.

With so many affected economically by this situation, many Brigantine residents may be forced to find new careers, or even consider leaving an island where the trend is toward higher property taxes and giant mansions. Considering that a single decrepit lot in the South Inlet is assessed at between $200,000 and $300,000, the tax rates for much more desirable properties in Brigantine can only continue to rise. Sad to say, some residents may no longer be able to afford to live on the island, forced to sell their properties to the cabal of large developers who seem intent on buying up all available land and converting it into housing that is unaffordable to most residents. The folks who figure to come out ahead are the big time property barons in town.

As more and more residents are forced by the downturn to sell, certain prominent individuals with a talent for property acquisition will be poised to scoop it up at distressed prices

Other proposals and plans have been announced, such as an expansion of the Tropicana, the transformation of the Gardiner’s Basin area into something more resembling Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and the further utilization of the bay area. All these projects have varying degrees of likelihood, and will require further confirmation before meriting much comment or analysis.

What’s certain is that the immediate prospects for Atlantic City are in question. What’s also certain is that, whatever develops, it will have a far-reaching impact on the stability and future of Brigantine. Right now, everything else is up for grabs. As Atlantic City scrambles to remain solvent and out of State control, Brigantine residents would do well to take what they hear with a grain of salt, at least until it becomes clearer how they will be affected. At a time like this, any good news is welcome, but good news will not save the economy. Action must be taken, and soon, not only for the good of Atlantic City, but for the prosperity of all its neighboring communities.

Subscribe BrigantineNOW

1 thought on “How Will Changes In AC Impact Brigantine’s Future?”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *