Still rebounding after five casinos shuttered a few years ago, Atlantic City has an ambitious action plan to fix the issues plaguing the city.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver opposed the Christie administration’s takeover of Atlantic City in 2016 when she was a state lawmaker. Now, she spearheads the plan to turn the gaming town around in what the Murphy administration calls a partnership, not a dictatorship.
“While Atlantic City always was viewed as a resort town or a gaming mecca on the East Coast, it has for a long time been an urban community and a community of color that’s been overlooked for a very, very, very long time,” Oliver said.
Leaders from the public and private sectors heard from city residents to draft the plan that covers nine areas, including public safety and economic development, to name a couple. Among the goals, new foreclosure relief plans, new training for city managers at Rutgers Center for Government Services, and creating better opportunities for Atlantic City’s youth.
“I think we are moving in the right direction,” said Vinnie Kirkland, an Atlantic City resident. “I sit on a lot of committees. I was at the social service summit that they had last week that the mayor called and we’re thinking about what we can do for Atlantic City and the children. Actually, we’re going over to City Hall right now to pick up an application for my granddaughter so she can be on one of the intern jobs this summer.”
“I’m hoping that they go through with it like they say they will because in Atlantic City there’s not much to do for kids. We just go to school and then we have to travel outside of Atlantic City to have fun,” said Atlantic City resident Tahani Muhammad.
The administration appointed former gubernatorial candidate Jim Johnson as Department of Community Affairs special counsel to lead the takeover that likely will last until 2021. Johnson says the plan will work because it includes a diverse and long list of stakeholders, including the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
“They’re helping to fund the neighborhood coordination officers that are going to put a cop in each ward, and that’s where that person shows up. So you’ve seen a realignment of resources and interest, and I think you’re going to see a big impact over time,” Johnson said.
The Atlantic City Implementation Plan is months in the making under the Murphy administration. But city residents say more important than time is the fact that the plan reflects the voices of the people of Atlantic City.
“We’re starting from a correct place now with input from the people of Atlantic City. That’s what’s been missing all along,” said Linda Steele, member of the Atlantic City NAACP.
Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam says change takes time and plans require holding people accountable for action.
“I don’t foresee this plan failing because ... everybody collectively has an opportunity to make sure it does not fail,” Gilliam said.
“So far what they’ve projected seems very feasible and very tangible to do,” said Full Circle Family Entertainment CEO Ernest Conner.
One member of the Atlantic City Executive Council says he already sees why the plan and the drafting of it have a huge buy-in: the presence of the lieutenant governor.
“Having her there gives people a certain sense of, ‘this is important, this needs to happen,'” said Tom Hannon, executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority and Urban Redevelopment Agency.
“Step by step the work is getting done and things are improving,” said Oliver.
The plan has timetables to achieve goals, and residents say even more importantly it has a voice — theirs.