Nor is there a whole lot of extra money available to the CRDA to make improvements. The casinos agreed to provide $30 million for marketing Atlantic City, but they aren’t kicking in additional revenue for cops or clearing out the homeless. Given competition from other states, the state decided it was a bad time to raise taxes on the resorts—the principal source of CRDA funding. When you press city tourism officials on these matters, they end up saying things like, “If nothing else, it gets everybody on the same page” and “Everybody is now coming together to collaborate.”
Of course, if they chose to, the casinos could enhance the Boardwalk plenty all on their own. Their security officers already have the city’s permission to patrol their area on bikes. And as a group, they control huge chunks of Boardwalk property, much of which is squandered on blank walls that create long dead zones along the walk.
But it’s not entirely clear whether the casinos really know how to embrace the Boardwalk. Back in 2000, Bally’s built a whole block of Wild West-themed storefronts with hotel rooms above—frontage for a new cowboy-themed casino. At first glance, it looks like a case of a casino finally doing right by the Boardwalk, what with the balconies, street-level shops and what looks like a restored movie theater. Thing is, the whole facade’s fake. The scene is painted onto the walls in a kind of mockery of new urbanism.
It may be that the casinos have gotten- Boardwalk religion since then. Certainly DeSanctis, the Revel boss, says the right things, not just about the Boardwalk, but about the entire blighted and largely vacant neighborhood where Revel resides: “We want people to stay two nights. And if we’re not just after gamblers, the question is, ‘What can they do the next morning?’” He wants guests to bike along a reconstructed Boardwalk leading up to Historic- Gardner’s Basin, a collection of bayside restaurants, bars and other attractions that’s one of the city’s pleasant surprises. He hopes locally owned restaurants spring up in the empty blocks around Revel.
It’s not as idle a wish as it might sound. The resort owns more than half of the vast urban prairie to its north . “I could be delusional, but I’m a believer,” DeSanctis says. “It’s too small an area not to be fixable.”
AND THIS IS PART of what makes Atlantic City’s long suffering so confounding. It’s tiny. The whole city is just four miles long. It has fewer than 40,000 residents. This shouldn’t be as overwhelming a job as rebuilding Detroit or the whole of North Philadelphia. “We’re the smallest big city in the country,” says Whelan, and he doesn’t mean it in a good way.