Posted: Monday, October 3, 2011
By EMILY PREVITI, Staff Writer Press of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY – The state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s new executive director starts today, and officials hope increased investment in the resort will soon follow.
John Palmieri will step into what potentially could become the most powerful position in Atlantic City. State laws that took effect eight months ago gave the CRDA control of a newly established Tourism District in the city – the centerpiece of a regulatory overhaul intended to boost a local hospitality industry still struggling from an international recession and emerging casino markets in neighboring states.
Funded by a 1.25 percent tax on casino revenue and other income sources such as parking fees, the CRDA took in $70 million last year.
Officials hope Palmieri’s 30 years of experience with economic redevelopment will increase investment locally, CRDA Board Chairman James Kehoe said Sunday.
“He brings more confidence to Atlantic City as executive director – that’s what we’re hoping,” Kehoe said. “He’s done this before, he’s been successful. There are investors who are developers, who love John and know he’s going to be here and what he brings to the table.”
Palmieri, a 60-year-old native of Hoboken, Hudson County, oversaw urban redevelopment initiatives in Providence, R.I., Hartford, Conn., and Charlotte, N.C., before heading the Boston Redevelopment Agency. He had already announced plans to leave Boston for an international aid mission when he was approached about the CRDA job.
All of those cities benefit from less criminal activity than Atlantic City and larger, better-educated, higher-compensated residential populations, as well as an economic balance that has long eluded the resort and surrounding region. But some of Palmieri’s previous projects contain elements and initiatives that Atlantic City has already considered implementing.
No one will say how much Palmieri will be paid, but his contracts are expected to be finalized within the next two weeks, said Kehoe, one of four people who interviewed finalists for the job.
By the time that happens, the Atlantic City Alliance – a nonprofit casino partnership formed to promote the industry – will announce Palmieri’s counterpart, said Don Marrandino, who heads the Alliance and is president of the Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort, and Showboat casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp.
The same state legislation that established CRDA oversight in tourist-heavy areas of Atlantic City also loosened gaming regulations and called on casino executives to use anticipated savings to fund a marketing campaign administered through the Alliance.
“John Palmieri seems like an unbelievable choice, and I think the person we’re going to introduce is equally impressive,” Marrandino said Sunday.
Like Palmieri, the Alliance’s incoming CEO does not have local ties and was selected after a national search.
The shortlist for the CRDA position included Susan Ney Thompson, chief operating officer until former CRDA Executive Director Tom Carver stepped down in Februrary. Thompson has led the CRDA since then and will be the deputy director as of today.
Palmieri is starting the weekend after the agency awarded a $799,770 contract to commercial real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc. to come up with a master plan for the Tourism District.
The CRDA has until Feb. 1 to finalize that plan, which likely will incorporate the existing CRDA downtown development plan. That strategy seeks to increase work force housing, expand medical and educational facilities there now – including AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, and satellite campuses for Atlantic Cape Community College and Richard Stockton College – and increase cultural offerings.
Palmieri has experience creating and redeveloping urban neighborhoods to attract businesses and tourism.
City leaders in Providence, R.I., credited him with executing their vision for an arts and entertainment district, which ultimately earned national acclaim. Urban planners, redevelopers, and other professionals continue to model urban renewal initiatives on the redevelopment in Providence, where Palmieri also oversaw millions of dollars of private investment in revitalization and affordable housing initiatives.
Success in Providence led to an offer from Charlotte, N.C., where Palmieri helped improve neighborhoods previously excluded from benefits afforded the rest of the city by its banking sector. Under his guidance, the city revamped one blighted section into a mixed-use strip offering an affordable and walkable experience -another redevelopment goal in Atlantic City. His program to entice contractors to hire Charlotte residents could address complaints from Atlantic City if he pushes the CRDA to launch a similar initiative.
“Getting quality people like John, who I read about and met, and the executive we’re going to announce – we have some real CEO firepower to help us turn the city’s image and fortunes around,” Marrandino said.