Businesses urged to invest in Atlantic City

Reuben Kramer, The Press of AC

ATLANTIC CITY — About 130 South Jersey business people hadn’t even taken their seats in a Sheraton ballroom Tuesday before they were reminded that the city’s cash crisis isn’t the only threat to the region’s economy.

On each of their chairs was a sign-up sheet urging them to join the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition, a project of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey, which hosted a pair of panels Tuesday on Atlantic City’s future.

The opening panel, in which Mayor Don Guardian and state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, offered starkly opposing views on how the city should address its liquidity woes, was followed by a sunnier one in which Nick Talvacchia, an attorney at Cooper Levenson who secures state subsidies for businesses looking to open here, argued that despite the doom and gloom, the city is ripe for private investment.

Land is cheap. Tax incentives, through the state’s Economic Redevelopment & Growth and Grow NJ programs, are plentiful. And the Atlantic City Development Corp., a private company that spends public dollars, is poised to break ground on a $210 million project in the city’s Chelsea section.

That project, which includes a Stockton University satellite campus and headquarters for South Jersey Gas, attracted Michael Shaner, an account executive with an audio-visual services firm in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to Tuesday’s panel discussions.

“I’m here to see these folks and get my name on the bid list,” said Shaner, a Virginia transplant who was particularly interested in getting some face time with Atlantic City Development Corp. President Christopher Paladino.

The Development Corp. gave a no-bid contract to Joseph Jingolo & Son, who was named construction manager of the Chelsea project, but insists it will competitively bid virtually all other contracts for work and materials.

Gabe Staino, a senior development officer with Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation in Galloway Township, said Atlantic City, with its bottomed-out but beautiful beachfront real estate, is “a great starting place to build.”

“You just have to get to a place where the government gets right-sized,” he said, adding that the city must start narrowing its $100 million budget deficit and, ultimately, lower the property-tax rate.

Atlantic City’s casino industry underwent that right-sizing in 2014, when four of 12 casinos closed; earlier this month all the surviving halls posted 2015 operating profits.

“Businesses will figure it out a lot quicker than government,” Staino said.

It quickly became apparent during Tuesday’s opening panel that little had been resolved in addressing the city’s collapsing finances.

David Galloway, who came to the Sheraton to network for Pennsauken-based security firm Independent Alarm, said the tension between Whelan and Guardian was palpable.

“I thought they were going to hit each other,” he said.

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