Atlantic City is a destination in forward motion. Rebuilding, rebranding and renovating are key elements of the city’s dynamic change, and though much has already been accomplished, there is still more to come.
“The future for Atlantic City is on an upward trend,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO, Meet AC, the sales and marketing force that supports the Atlantic City Convention Center. “Currently, properties are being reinvested in and purchased, which will ultimately open additional hotel rooms, unique attractions, entertainment and dining options. This will make the attendee experience in Atlantic City that much better. Our casino/hotel partners have added additional meeting space to their properties because they see how important the meeting and convention industry is to the destination. Atlantic City’s convention and meeting industry is consistently growing, while booking new and repeat business.”
Meet AC reported that 2017 was a record year in booking future meeting and convention business with a total of 255 meetings and conventions booked representing 313,451 future hotel room nights. “By exceeding our room night goals for the fourth consecutive year, this allows us to continue to grow our meetings footprint,” says Wood.
Add to that ample meeting space, including the convention center’s 600,000 sf, stellar dining, more than 25 golf courses and a mix of hotels that include gaming and non-gaming properties. And, of course, there’s the ideal location. “Atlantic City is 60 miles from Philadelphia, 125 miles from New York and 175 miles from Washington, DC,” Wood points out, “which makes train and bus transportation easy access into the destination for attendees.”
Considering all the positives, it’s no surprise that many groups come back year after year.
The New Jersey Apartment Association brought its annual Conference & Expo to the city in May 2017. The event drew 1,600 attendees and was based at The Water Club at Borgata. Nichole LoPresti, senior vice president of the association, notes that her group has been hosting this conference in Atlantic City for decades.
“We love hosting our conference in Atlantic City because it provides us with a multitude of options — world-class restaurants to host events, more than ample meeting spaces and an amazing support team with our partners at Meet AC,” she says. “Our Conference & Expo is a three-day convention executed by our events team, which is small. We rely heavily on Meet AC, which supports our team in every way imaginable. Their staff assists with providing support at our registration desk, works with us on our audio-visual needs, works with our budget on food and beverage and keeps us on track throughout the year. Our event runs seamlessly due in large part to the support we receive from the team at Meet AC.”
A true fan of Atlantic City, LoPresti thinks the city has been judged unfairly in the past. “I think other meeting planners should know that Atlantic City is open and ready to do business. There has been some negative media in the past regarding Atlantic City, and I believe this coverage was unfair and untrue,” she says. “The convention center and its team have done an amazing job attracting new business and retaining shows like ours that have been loyal for decades. It’s not by accident that more people want to go to Atlantic City and do business there. There are world-class accommodations at the Borgata, and the convention center is constantly reinvesting to improve.”
The group holds events in two locations. “Our educational offerings and our expo take place at the convention center, while our host hotel, The Water Club at the Borgata, hosts our evening receptions and events,” LoPresti says. “We provide a shuttle for attendees between both locations and it works exceptionally well. Our attendees have door-to-door dropoffs, and it requires no effort on their part to get from one place to another.
“By hosting our events in two different locations, it allows us to offer larger events and meeting rooms that are equipped with our needs and space to spread out. We could host all our events in one place, but by splitting the activities between two locations, it keeps our attendees moving, provides a change of scenery and allows us to have the space we need to host educational sessions and our expo.”
LoPresti adds that she receives “rave reviews from attendees about the quality of the food and beverage at both locations year after year.”
Association members also host their own private events throughout the city at various restaurants, LoPresti notes, including The Palm, Chart House and Dock’s Oyster House (in continuous operation by the Dougherty family since 1897), and all “have an amazing experience and look forward to returning to Atlantic City each year.”
As for The Water Club at Borgata, LoPresti says, “It gives our guests the feeling of staying at an exclusive spa and resort. Our attendees are spending three full days working and learning — and this hotel gives them the opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves during their free time. The service is second to none, and the accommodations never disappoint.”
LoPresti also points to the fact that, “Everything is customizable to fit your group’s needs. Though we have stayed at the same place for several years, each year it feels different because the staff is willing to work with us on the overall guest experience. It never gets redundant because the Borgata team is always wonderful about trying new things with our groups and working to make our experience a pleasurable one.”
The last day of the show takes place at The Water Club’s conference space. “We have a significantly smaller group that convenes and the space meets our needs. Our attendees are able to take the elevator from their rooms directly to the space and enjoy a gourmet breakfast and spend the morning learning in a comfortable space. The audio-visual team at the Water Club is on point, works with our budget and ensures that everything is set up properly.”
Planners should know, LoPresti adds, “that the Water Club at the Borgata is an amazing experience for all groups. This world-class facility will wow your guests, and the team at the Water Club and Borgata will do everything possible to make sure you and your guests are impressed and fully satisfied.”
When it comes down to it, LoPresti can’t even think of any challenges to holding a meeting in Atlantic City. “With the top-notch team at Meet AC assisting us, we had absolutely no challenges. They took the guesswork out of planning a complicated meeting and made my job a million times easier!”
That said, she advises planners to be as open as possible with the team at Meet AC and whichever hotel they are working with. “If you have budget constraints or specific issues that may be relevant to your group, speak to the folks in Atlantic City and see what suggestions they have. There’s no challenge they can’t overcome but it’s best to have an open line of communication from the beginning.”
Other associations that have met in the city many times include the Professional Insurance Agents Association of New Jersey and New York (PIA) and the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants (NJCPA).
Kimberly Zielinski, conference manager with the insurance agents group, says, “Atlantic City is, and always has been, a fantastic destination for our joint annual conference of insurance agents. Atlantic City is a great place to mix business with pleasure, and every year we enjoy record-breaking attendance.”
The 2018 annual conference in June will be the group’s third consecutive year at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. Zielinski calls the staff at Harrah’s “professional, friendly and easy to work with throughout the planning process,” and notes that a highlight of the conference has been a reception at the resort’s pool — a huge hit with attendees.
Ralph Thomas, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, says it’s imperative that NJCPA hold its annual convention in a “convenient, cost-effective and enjoyable location for our members. Atlantic City checks all the boxes. The city is just a two-hour drive or less for the majority of our attendees and offers an ideal combination of affordable accommodations and entertainment.”
Thomas says of last June’s event at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, “Our members truly enjoy visiting the Borgata for our annual convention,” Thomas says. “The hotel offers wonderful accommodations, attentive staff and an excellent meeting experience.”
Perhaps most important, Thomas and his staff have developed a strong relationship with the hotel. “Our event staff have developed an excellent rapport with the Borgata staff, and it shows in the level of attention and responsiveness that we receive during the event.”
Region Three of the American Podiatric Medical Association also has met in Atlantic City multiple times. In May, the group held its 68th Annual Region Three Scientific Meeting with 500 doctors of podiatric medicine, 100 podiatric medical assistants and more than 100 exhibitors. The meeting was based at Resorts Casino Hotel.
“Region Three of the American Podiatric Medical Association is comprised of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware,” says Dr. Leonard Portnoy, DPM, chairman of the meeting. “The conference has traditionally been held in Atlantic City. It’s a convenient venue for the component societies in that some of the registrants can commute, and is easily accessible to registrants from other states via the Atlantic City and Philadelphia airports. We encourage our registrants to bring their families to enjoy the plethora of activities Atlantic City has to offer.”
Portnoy says most of the lectures are held at the hotel’s 1,350-seat Superstar Theater. “It’s a world-class venue with world-class audio-visual technicians. At this past year’s meeting, we posted a live session on Facebook with participation from those on Facebook. We also had an audience-response session with the registrants using their cellphones to respond. Incidentally, there was no additional charge for Wi-Fi service. This was all accomplished with the expertise of the audio-visual staff.”
In addition, the group typically entertains VIPs at dinners within and outside of the hotel. “We often entertain at Gallagher’s Steak House and Capriccio Italian Restaurant in the hotel,” Portnoy says. Capriccio was honored for its outstanding wine program in Wine Spectator’s 2017 Restaurant Awards, announced last August. “Dock’s Oyster House and Café 2825 on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City are also on our return list. We have enjoyed all these eateries and return year after year. They are very accommodating, (the) food is excellent and the service is superb.”
It’s not just the meeting space and restaurants that garner high praise from Portnoy. “I have served on the Region Three Committee for over 30 years, and have had the opportunity to negotiate with various hotels and sales staff,” he says. “When my committee met with the personnel at Resorts, we knew we had found a new home. They were professional, thorough and were able to work with us on our budgetary requirements. I have found the employees at the hotel from housekeeping to upper management to be extremely helpful. I didn’t have one complaint from my membership regarding the hotel. The two people I had the most contact with were Pam James, senior sales manager, and Ed McAviney, catering and banquets manager. Everything I requested from both of these people was done instantaneously and efficiently, which sure makes my life easier.”
But Portnoy notes that there’s one thing that matters over all others, and Resorts delivered on that, too. “Over the past 30 years or so, I have found that there are three things one must have in the staff at your convention site. They are: accountability, accountability and accountability. If I didn’t mention it, the staff at Resorts Casino Hotel was accountable. If you are searching for a venue for your next meeting, I can unequivocally recommend Resorts Casino Hotel.”
By the time Region Three of the American Podiatric Medical Association returns to Atlantic City, Resorts Casino Hotel will be even better. Mohegan Sun, which owns Resorts Casino Hotel, has earmarked $100 million for expansion and renovation of the hotel, including the recently completed renovation of all 480 rooms in the Ocean Tower. The onsite Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville entertainment complex has received a $35 million makeover, and a state-of-the-art conference center opened in 2015.
Caesars, too, is engaged in an ongoing reimagining of its Atlantic City properties. The $125 million Waterfront Conference Center at Harrah’s Resort opened in 2015, as did the Wild Wild West bar at Bally’s. Also part of the master plan for Harrah’s and open as of last summer are the upgraded 450 guest rooms and suites in the hotel’s Bayview Tower, new dining venues and the completion of the multimillion-dollar overhaul of the hotel’s nightclub, The Pool After Dark.
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa spent $50 million on projects in 2016, including an outdoor pool, beer garden and eatery. A new nightclub also debuted in 2016, and in 2017 the hotel’s new 18,000-sf Central Conference Center opened, giving the resort a total of more than 106,000 sf of meeting and event space, which also includes the Event Center and The Water Club’s 36,000 sf of meeting space.
One of the most anticipated recent openings was the 200-foot-high observation wheel at Steel Pier, which debuted in October, giving riders panoramic views of the Atlantic City skyline and ocean from inside climate-controlled gondolas.
AC Ocean Walk has acquired the former Revel Casino Hotel and plans to open the property this summer as Ocean Resort Casino. Located along the Boardwalk, the 1,399-room Revel, first opened in April 2012 encompassing 6.4 million sf. Plans call for the Ocean Resort to retain its 165,000 sf of meeting and convention space, 138,000 sf of gaming space and 7,700-space parking facility.
Hard Rock International purchased the Trump Taj Mahal and expects to open the newly renovated and upgraded property over Memorial Day in 2018. Guest rooms and suites will be completely renovated, along with the indoor pool, exterior, meeting and convention spaces, and performance venues. New will be a Hard Rock Casino, Hard Rock Cafe, check-in experience and lobby lounge, and new and upgraded dining venues throughout the property.
Also expected for completion in 2018 is Tropicana’s skyway bridge connecting its recently purchased Chelsea Hotel to the main hotel. With the addition of what will be called The Chelsea Tower at Tropicana Atlantic City, the resort will have 2,730 guest rooms.
And in 2019, a 350-foot-high vertical Polercoaster will debut in Atlantic City. The state agreed to pay 27.8 percent of the total projected project cost of $138 million, voting to provide a $38.4 million state grant. The Polercoaster will rise on the site of the former Sands Casino, which was imploded in 2007. Future plans for other attractions near the coaster site include a zip line, extreme ninja course, an XD theater, a skydiving simulator, a bar and retail space. The coaster is expected to open in time for the summer season in 2019.
All of that serves to underscore what Wood sees as one of Atlantic City’s greatest assets. “When meeting planners select Atlantic City,” he concludes, “they are also getting a resort destination with endless nightlife, world-class dining options, pristine beaches and the historic Boardwalk, championship golf courses and multiple gaming options. It’s a one-stop shop for groups.” AC&F