Asbury Park vs. Atlantic City: Unfair to Compare?

What do Asbury Park and Atlantic City have in common, other than ocean views and folks who worship Bruce Springsteen?  That was the first of several thoughts that ran through my head as I was reading Juliet Fletcher's recent article in The Press of Atlantic City putting forth Asbury Park as the example for how to solve Atlantic City's redevelopment woes.

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of the Boss and responsible redevelopment in an expedited manner, which is the basic premise of the article.  However, it felt like an unfair, or at least unrealistic comparison.  According to the 2000 Census, Atlantic City is double the size of Asbury Park.   Atlantic City covers 11.4 square miles while Asbury Park covers only 1.3 miles.  Plus, the cities use different forms of government, with Atlantic City using a mayor-council system and Asbury Park using a council-manager system which is non-partisan with a weak executive branch.  I think that the redevelopment work done in New Brunswick is a more apt model for Atlantic City.

However, I come not to bury Ms. Fletcher's article, but to praise it, which leads to my second thought.  The thrust of the article is that Asbury Park has been able to accomplish some impressive redevelopment (including green space) on an expedited time-line by virtue of cooperation from the government, which included allowing a single redeveloper to handle a specific area that included the boardwalk.  Sound familiar?  It should.  In essence, this is exactly what has been recommended for Atlantic City by Governor Christie's Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment.  

The Commission has recommended, and Governor Christie has heartily endorsed, the creation of an "Atlantic City Tourism District," with duties that would include coordinating redevelopment within the District (among other things), along with creation of a "Public-Private Partnership," which would be comprised of the District and local businesses (including casinos), to encourage private investment (among other things).  (The Commission recommended that the Partnership be modeled after Devco, the redevelopment company operating successfully in New Brunswick, apparently ignoring the fact that Devco is a private entity whereas the recommended Partnership would have a "public" component, i.e., government involvement.  We'll save that troubling discrepancy for another time.)

Call me naive, and the "public" involvement is admittedly worrisome, but why can't the District, through the Partnership, serve in the role of the "single redeveloper" that proved so successful in Asbury Park?  Is that too idealistic?  I'm as skeptical as the next guy/gal as to whether government can get out of its own way, especially in Atlantic City, but in theory the District and Partnership could be a wonderful catalyst to get redevelopment off the ground.  In today's economic and political climate, it is simply unrealistic to think that a single private redeveloper, given control over the area in question, could get enough done to make a difference for Atlantic City as a whole

Which leads me to my third and final thought: the work near the boardwalk done by the single redeveloper in Asbury Park is serving as a catalyst for redevelopment in other areas of the city by other redevelopers.  If we can get the Tourism District fixed up, why can't the same momentum take hold in other areas of Atlantic City?

I am a firm believer that responsible and creative redevelopment leads to good things.  Asbury Park is proof of that.  How can we make that happen quickly in Atlantic City?


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