Local business executives and labor and public officials in Atlantic City put pressure on Gov. Phil Murphy during an April 30 morning press conference, held on the city’s boardwalk between Boardwalk Hall and the beach, to roll-back restrictions on conventions, trade show and events, which make up a sizable chunk of the region’s economy.
They feel the governor needs to prioritize reopening those segments of the economy, as he considers relaxing more COVID-19 restrictions.
Atlantic City has two main event spaces: the 500,000 square-foot Atlantic City Convention Center and Boardwalk Hall, which are both owned by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and operated by Meet AC. Neither offered a response when reached for comment. Many casinos in the city boast ample floor space for events and entertainment.
The closure of indoor events and the limitations on attendees, now set to 250, has been devastating for the events industry, according to many executives. In-person closures and restrictions have slammed the casino industry and made the city’s unemployment among the highest in the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s now more important than ever that we ease indoor capacity restrictions to allow our properties to resume indoor meetings and conferences,” the Casino Association of New Jersey – the trade group for the state’s nine casinos – said in a written statement. “We are prepared and ready to safely bring back conventions and meetings with the same rigorous health and safety protocols we have been employing since our reopening last July.”
“[C]onventions and trade shows account for $1.9 billion in revenue for Atlantic City, and the Convention Center, hotels and local businesses surrounding the area greatly depend on this revenue to survive,” reads an April 29 statement from local Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, a Democrat.
He joined fellow district mate Assemblyman John Armato, a Democrat, and Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick on Friday morning, along with several labor organizations whose members work events in the city.
“I know how important meetings, conventions, and trade shows are to the economic livelihood of Atlantic City and the surrounding area,” Fitzpatrick said. “I believe it is crucial to champion the unique amenities Atlantic City has to offer and work to ensure we are not left out of reopening plans”
Reopenings so far have focused on the outdoors: festivals and fairs, outdoor venues and outside gatherings can all increase their maximum size as of May 10. Murphy has promised future reopenings but has not indicated what they will be.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled a much faster reopening timeline for indoor businesses throughout May, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will fully lift COVID-19 restrictions by the July Fourth weekend.
New York City can begin offering bar seating May 3, Cuomo announced, but that’s still banned in New Jersey.
Larry Sieg, who heads Meet AC, said in a previous interview that for now, the focus is primarily on outdoor summer events like sports competitions. Indoor events typically “slow down “ during a non-COVID summer, and the big money makers that can draw in tens of thousands of attendees are scheduled between late fall and early spring,” he told NJBIZ.
Lawmakers pressed Murphy in September for him to roll back restrictions as the summer season began to wind down.
“Atlantic City cannot afford to sit empty through the winter season and certainly cannot afford the long term impacts of not being able to schedule conventions and trade shows for upcoming or future dates,” the letter reads. And, they pressed him again this March, in a letter that was also addressed to both Meet AC and the CRDA.
Other hotels and casinos play host to events and entertainment, and worry about how they would fare in the months ahead even with expanded outdoor amenities.
“[W]ith indoor dining capacities and bar restrictions at the current levels, it will be very difficult to accommodate demand and optimize guest experience,” reads a prepared statement from Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock in Atlantic City.
“Additionally, the current 250-person limit on entertainment, meetings and conventions significantly hinders the ability for business in Atlantic City to fully rebound to our fullest potential,” he added.