Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2011
— The state’s plan to rebuild Atlantic City will begin next month, when the official boundaries of the resort’s new state-run Tourism District will be established as part of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s growing powers.
Susan Ney Thompson, interim executive director of the CRDA, said Wednesday that a finalized map of the district will be considered for a vote at the authority’s meeting April 19. She said the map’s approval would trigger the formal takeover of the city’s planning and zoning operations in the district and the absorption of the Atlantic City Special Improvement District.
New state law created a Tourism District in Atlantic City that will be run by the CRDA, which will control planning and zoning matters within the zone and absorb other resort agencies such as the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority and the Special Improvement District.
The legislation, designed to revitalize the ailing resort, consists of a “default map” of the district, which the CRDA has the right to adjust within 90 days of Gov. Chris Christie’s signing of the bill Feb. 1.
Some city officials, including Mayor Lorenzo Langford, have argued over the boundaries, insisting they should be limited to the beach and Boardwalk. Others have questioned why they have not been expanded to include resort locations such as Gardner’s Basin, a complex designed to attract city visitors.
Thompson said the authority will use the time leading up to the April meeting to hold a series of forums in each of the city’s six wards to solicit input on what should be included in the district and what should be excluded. Another meetings will be held among the authority and other city stakeholders, including casino interests, local business leaders, officials from local nonprofit groups and social service representatives.
“This is a very busy time,” Thompson said. “We think there are a lot of positive results that can be accomplished, with an eye toward communicating that Atlantic City has gotten sort of a fresh start.”
Christie has made it clear he is looking for a fresh start regarding leadership at the CRDA. His previous public comments about appointing a new executive director prompted former head Thomas Carver to resign last month, resulting in Thompson’s temporary promotion.
Jon Hanson, head of the committee Christie assembled to map out a future for Atlantic City, said he has been involved in discussions about a new executive director. However, he would confirm only that he has met with Thompson about the job.
“I believe she will be the interim director for the foreseeable future,” Hanson said Wednesday.
Asked if she would stay in the position for the duration of the transition process, Hanson declined to answer, referring that question to the governor. Thompson said she had no details on how long she would be serving as interim director.
Meanwhile, Christie has appointed a new liaison between his administration and the authority.
Thompson confirmed that Susan Kase, a deputy attorney general and former assistant U.S. attorney, will replace state attorney Brandon Minde as the liaison in the Governor’s Authorities Unit. Thompson said Kase will spend about three days at the authority each week. She first met with CRDA officials last week.
“We need to get information on to the right desks,” Thompson said. “She’s here to facilitate that.”
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts also made clear Kase’s responsibilities would not differ from those of other liaisons, who attend all meetings and review minutes and executive decisions.
Hanson said he also met with Kase last week.
As for the planned meetings with the Atlantic City community, Thompson said none has been scheduled yet.
“We’re working on that now,” she said.
Steven Young, a city activist who has been outspoken about the community’s lack of input in the state’s plan, commended the CRDA for its willingness to listen to the people first.
“The importance of communications is key,” Young said. “That’s what we’ve wanted all along, to let our voices be heard before anything is written.”