ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The city, making good on its vow to seek new non-gambling attractions, has approved redevelopment plans including a giant Ferris wheel and a zip line on the beachfront next to the Steel Pier and restaurants, a rebuilt Boardwalk and an elevated walkway in its Inlet neighborhood.
The plans come as Atlantic City has lost four of its 12 casinos and is trying to make its tourism-centered economy less dependent on gambling.
The City Council on Wednesday approved an expansion of the iconic Steel Pier to make way for an already-approved 205-foot-tall observation wheel with enclosed, climate-controlled cars and a zip line ride. It also approved a redevelopment plan for the Northeast Inlet neighborhood including new eateries, entertainment and recreational facilities, a rebuilt Boardwalk and an elevated walkway to bring new business to the area.
"It's a reinforcement of the importance of adding these other amenities," said John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
The agency has already approved the Ferris wheel project and will be contributing about $8.1 million of its estimated $14 million price tag through a loan to be repaid from a portion of ride ticket revenue.
"It's a good step forward in the ongoing effort to reinforce those non-gambling sectors," Palmieri said.
It's also something Atlantic City has been talking about since 2007, the first year its casino gambling revenues posted a yearly decline due to the opening of casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania that ate into its customer base. Those revenues have plunged from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.74 billion last year as casinos continued to open in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. Of the eight Atlantic City casinos that survived 2014's slew of closings, three are in bankruptcy.
So it's more important than ever to give people something fun to do in Atlantic City that doesn't involve gambling. Anthony Catanoso's family owns the Steel Pier, where the famous Diving Horse and top bands and singers entertained millions of people before casino gambling arrived.
"We've been talking about doing this for 25 years," he said. "It's one more example of an amenity we can provide that doesn't depend on gambling. Observation wheels around the country are very successful, and they've become destinations in their own right. This will be the second- or third-tallest in the country, and no one has the view we have with the beachfront, the ocean and the skyline. It's going to be phenomenal."
The wheel and its 40 cars are being built in Italy and should be delivered to Atlantic City by December. The start of an expansion of the Boardwalk to support the wheel and the zip line ride could begin within two months, Catanoso said.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC