Atlantic City is a meetings mecca. Proof is its selection as host to a major meeting of planners — giving industry decision-makers the opportunity to meet New Jersey’s new and improved city by the sea.
Here’s a bit of backstory. Known as the place to see and be seen in its heyday years of the 1930s and 1940s, Atlantic City’s rich history surprisingly began more than two centuries before the spinning of its first roulette wheel. Back in the day when the city was replete with grand hotels, fine dining and train transportation, it faced a problem — sand. The solution was a boardwalk, the nation’s first, which was built in the 1870s; and this wooden walkway soon became an iconic landmark and romantic lure, one that attracted such varied celebs over the decades as Marilyn Monroe, Adam Levine and Peyton Manning. In the ’20s the challenge became how to extend the tourist season beyond summer; and voilà, the Miss America pageant was conceived. Then Atlantic City opened its first casino in 1978. However, its roller-coaster history of rise and decline continued throughout these years.
“Atlantic City offers the meeting space we need, the social activities attendees appreciate and a consistently high level of service.”
— Denise Gallo
Fast forward to one of the industry’s premier association events — Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress (WEC), held in Atlantic City last year for the first time. Designed to deliver high-quality education, networking events and business exchange opportunities for more than 2,000 MPI members and WEC attendees, this end-of-conference comment best describes the results: “So glad to see Atlantic City, New Jersey, on the upswing.”
Matthew Marcial, CAE, CMP, MPI’s vice president of education and events, explains the city’s selection: “Caesars Entertainment and Meet AC offered us an attractive proposal with great value for our members and attendees, which resulted in this being the first time for our event in Atlantic City.”
Underscoring the strong partnership between MPI and Caesars Entertainment Corporation, the event showcased the best of the hotel group’s offerings. From opening night at Bally’s Beach Bar (described by Marcial as the “perfect way to showcase the destination as a first impression for our attendees”) to the closing-night celebration at Harrah’s Pool After Dark (aka the flawless finale), the city’s red carpet rolled out.
Here are some specifics: There was no better act to open the general session than Atlantic City’s so-called “hottest ticket in town,” the musical comedy act called The Water Coolers. Specifically selected to preset the meeting’s genial mood, it was complemented by host, stand-up comedian and former Miss New Jersey Dena Blizzard, who ensured convivial continuity with her pitch-perfect tone, humor and pacing. Featuring the Grammy award-winning band Train, known for such hits as “Drops of Jupiter,” Rendezvous earned its reputation as the industry’s premier networking event. Sealing the deal, Atlantic City-style, was the Big Deal. Held in Caesars Palladium Ballroom and described as the place where meeting pros play to win, the event capitalized on its gaming environs, making the night of non-stop networking poker action anything but a gamble.
If “love is in the details” as Oprah is fond of saying, MPI WEC is indeed a romance. From puppy-cuddling and massage chairs to the here-to-help ladies in pink and all-over-town branding, the following meeting planner’s comment reflects the sentiments of most in attendance. “Atlantic City did a fantastic job of letting all in the area and hotels know MPI WEC was in town — all the signage and buttons made it feel as if we were a force to be dealt with. All of the recognition was very cool. I felt like a VIP.”
Verdict: The conference was deemed a success by 96 percent of its attendees, with more than three out of five planners more likely to book a meeting or event in Atlantic City after attending WEC.
In conclusion, Marcial’s advice to other planners is basic. “Work closely with the Caesars and Meet AC teams. They are experts and true professionals who have the resources to make planning your meeting in Atlantic City a success.”
Underscoring the significance of the tight alliance between the association and Atlantic City’s key players, Jim Wood, president and CEO of Meet AC, elaborates, “We held a weekly conference call with MPI, Caesars and Meet AC to review the planning of the conference.”
Of the association’s decision to come to his town, Wood explains: “The opening of the Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center was one of the driving factors that brought MPI WEC to Atlantic City.” Debuting in September 2015, the $250 million venue represents the East Coast’s largest convention center-hotel complex between Baltimore and Boston. Consisting of two 50,000-sf ballrooms (divisible into 29 configurations), these state-of-the-art, technologically advanced meeting spaces can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees. Additional perks of special interest to planners are the conference center’s behind-the-scenes tours and recent room renovations at Harrah’s Bayview Tower, Bally’s and Caesars Forum Tower.
Long-time returnee, New Jersey State Bar Association, has conducted its annual meeting and convention in Atlantic City for almost three decades, the last nine of which have been at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Denise Gallo, senior managing director of meetings, explains why 2016 was yet again a repeat performance for this year’s nearly 3,000 attorneys, judges and other legal professionals. An association of more than 18,000 members, 2016’s theme — diversity — was reflected by its keynote speaker, James Dale, plaintiff in the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.
“Atlantic City offers the meeting space we need, the social activities attendees appreciate and a consistently high level of service,” explains Gallo. “We selected Borgata shortly after it opened because of its upscale energy, meeting space, creative food and beverage options, and their commitment to customer service. We continue to return to Borgata because they have not only maintained this level of appearance and service, but improved upon it over the years.”
Even challenges were met with Gallo’s approval. With little more than two hours, Borgata’s staff dismantled a section of the exhibit hall and reset it for the Installation Dinner — seating for more than 400, a large stage, video, recording equipment and accent lighting. “The transformation in such a short period of time is mind-boggling,” summates Gallo.
Giving a special shout out to Borgata staffers — Bernard Sefeik, Jennifer Zavaglia, Robert Murphy, Allison Diamond and Bill Barnes — she cites an example of their commitment to her association. “Every summer they travel to New Brunswick (the association’s New Jersey office) for a debriefing and discussion as to how to make next year’s event more successful.”
Holding its 18th annual conference in Atlantic City once again in June, 2017, Doug Cerminaro, conference chairman of the Pennsylvania-New Jersey Chapter of the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP), explains the global association’s repeat visits. “We return to Atlantic City because it is a fun venue with a lot to do.”
Tropicana Atlantic City has been selected as the conference hotel for the majority of those years, with Cerminaro’s group so pleased with the venue that their balance of time spent on versus off property is typically a ratio of 90 to 10. This year’s conference of 300 attendees was no exception.
Making a $90 million commitment to its future and to the meetings industry, Steve Callender, general manager of Tropicana, explains its financial investment. “Our objective continues to focus on transforming Tropicana into a full resort destination providing unique experiences in one location offering gaming and non-gaming amenities.” Though it represents only a small portion of this investment, the revamp of each evening’s Multimedia Light and Sound Show (playing nightly every half hour beginning at dusk) additionally lures recurring groups such as IARP to the resort.
Spanning 11 acres at the northern end of the famed Atlantic City Boardwalk is Resorts Casino Hotel. Celebrating its 38th anniversary last May, Resorts originally made history as the first American casino outside of Nevada.
Resorts has 942 guest rooms, an 80,000-sf casino, 10 restaurants, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool and 64,000 sf of meeting space — including two theaters, four ballrooms, 24 meeting rooms and the Club Tower level, which perfectly frames the Atlantic City skyline and Atlantic Ocean views.
Working toward Resorts Casino Hotel President and CEO Mark Giannantonio’s goal to bring his hometown back to its roots of being the East Coast’s premiere beachfront, boardwalk and tourist destination is the property’s investment in the future. Since 2012, Resorts Casino Hotel has completed more than $100 million in renovations, including a new conference center (said to be responsible in driving a 30 percent increase in the booking pace compared to 2015).
“We’ve been to Atlantic City 10 times and half of those conferences were held at Resorts Casino Hotel,” says Lou Riccio, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. The reason: There was an initial resistance to stay at Resorts because it is Atlantic City’s oldest casino hotel (opened 1978). “However, once we stayed there, they want to return again and again. The difference between pre- and post-renovation is dramatic.” Riccio gives details: capacity to handle much larger groups, significant technological advances and state-of-the-art acoustics. All played part in the success of the association’s April 2016, annual event — training conference, educational seminar and introduction of new innovations — for 450 attendees and 60 exhibitors.
A crisis management situation at the 2016 conference validated Riccio’s allegiance to Resorts when there was a backup of approximately 150 attendees at check-in. “Once I called my contact about the issue, it was immediately handled with two additional staffers dispatched to the front desk and a separate check-in area set up exclusively for our group.”
The appeal of Resorts and Atlantic City to Riccio, a 25-year industry veteran, is twofold — this hotel’s value and the city’s fine-dining selections. Resorts touts itself as offering quality accommodations at half the price of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, or New York City. Of additional appeal, it is less than 175 miles from Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, DC. With regard to the food and beverage scene, at the top of this seasoned planner’s list are Chef Vola’s, Café 2825, Docks Oyster House, Knife and Fork Inn and Capriccio (a Resorts eatery).
When asked if he had suggestions for planners holding meetings in Atlantic City, Riccio’s recommendation involves timing. “Try to design the program so that it ends mid-afternoon each day — allowing attendees to take advantage of the gaming option, if desired.
With miles of beach and boardwalk to stroll, eight major casinos to enjoy, a tax-free outlet for shopping and more than 16,000 hotel rooms in which to stay — all a short distance from the convention center — Atlantic City seems in a perfect position to appeal to groups.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa announced in 2016 it is spending $50 million on projects, including an outdoor pool and beer garden and a new eatery, which debuted at the beginning of summer 2016. The 3,200-sf pool can be used for swimming during the day, and as an entertainment gathering spot at night. The Borgata’s projects also include a new nightclub that opened May 2016 with an 18,000-sf nightclub, Premier. The space is designed as “a theatrical experience for partygoers” and competes against blockbuster clubs in Las Vegas, New York and Miami, according to the resort. Tiered booths will tilt toward a DJ station, stage and “digital proscenium.” Carved-stone bars 35 feet long will flank the main room, with a horseshoe-shaped mezzanine and 25-foot-wide digitally programmable chandelier hanging overhead. In addition, Borgata’s new Central Conference Space will include an additional 18,000 sf and meeting space. A new restaurant, Angeline with celebrity chef Michael Symon, is coming this spring.
Closed since 2014 and formerly known as Revel Casino Hotel, this property is slated to be rebranded and reopened in 2017 as TEN. Its new vision has been described as vintage East Coast.
Tropicana Atlantic City’s final $50 million renovation includes Boardwalk façade enhancements, hotel room upgrades and property expansions. Its new multimillion-dollar AtlantiCare LifeCenter features the most advanced gym facility in Atlantic City, and more eateries are on the horizon too. Partnering with Iron Chef Jose Garces, Tropicana opened multiple seafood restaurant concepts.
Resorts Casino Hotel’s Margaritaville Café and LandShark Bar & Grill, located within Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Entertainment Complex, remains Atlantic City’s only full-service, on-the-beach restaurant and bar.
The Steel Pier is currently developing a 200-foot-high observation wheel, which will offer riders sweeping views of the ocean and Atlantic City skyline from inside climate-controlled gondolas. This $14 million project is scheduled to open summer 2017.
Showboat Hotel reopened as a fully functioning hotel in July 2016 with 872 hotel rooms. Plans are in the works to revamp the property with additional meeting space and restaurants.
The Claridge hotel reopened in 2014 as a fully restored historic hotel with 483 renovated guest rooms. The property recently announced their new brand, a Radisson Hotel. The property, home to the Holtzman Art Gallery, debuted additional conference space, adding 15,000 sf to meet the growing demand for conference space throughout Atlantic City. This brings Claridge’s conference space to 100,000 sf, including a 6,400-sf room and four smaller conference and boardrooms. In addition, The Claridge boasts an elegantly renovated ballroom and recently opened Atlantic City’s first rooftop bar, VUE, with expansive views.
Billionaire investor Carl Icahn reached a deal to sell the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City to Hard Rock International and two New Jersey investors. “We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City creating thousands of jobs to help local employment,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement. “We are 100 percent convinced Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City will be a success.”
He said the company plans to invest $300 million in renovating and rebranding the property. AC&F