by Jeff Heilman
Last week, local and state officials joined executives from Caesars Entertainment Corporation in cutting the ribbon on the new $125.8 million Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. Speaking beforehand with Michael Massari, Caesars’ senior vice president of national meetings and events, we agreed that like his native Philadelphia, Atlantic City has fighting spirit to spare.
Pummeled of late by competition, casino closures and job losses, the fabled seaside resort has resiliently kept its dukes up. While slower to diversify than Las Vegas, where non-gaming draws such as five-star dining and mega-nightclubs now account for fully two-thirds of the revenue, Atlantic City has played its cards right by developing its own upscale dining, retail, spa and nightlife options.
Count meetings and conventions in the revitalization, too, which is exactly what Caesars did in betting on the new 100,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility at Harrah’s. It was a well-placed stake, addressing a significant gap in the Northeast’s $16 billion meetings market. Connected to Harrah’s and all of its dining and entertainment assets, including the popular Pool After Dark, the new venue creates the largest conference-hotel complex from Baltimore to Boston, capable of hosting 5,000 attendees under one roof.
As noted at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, groups would have to go to Orlando, Dallas or Vegas to find comparable convenience. With a full-blown convention actually taking place during the ceremony, dramatic positive change is already happening. Also announced at the event, Harrah’s has 97,000 room nights booked for the next 12 months ahead, up from 7,000 rooms a year ago, and some 97 meetings already confirmed through 2019—all thanks to the new facility.
People who stick by Atlantic City are said “to have sand in their shoes.” One of those supporters is the city’s openly gay mayor, Don Guardian. “This is how we move forward,” he said of the day’s “game-changing” event. “This is how we get to be one of the big boys.”
Lots is happening in Atlantic City, besides this weekend’s Miss’d America Pageant, a whole lot of development and redevelopment is revitalizing the area.