Will Atlantic City one day soon be able to say, not just Do AC, but come on down and smoke weed by the sea?
"I would love to be able to say that," said Atlantic City Council President Frank Gilliam on Wednesday, following a noontime talk on the history of master plans from Elizabeth Terenik, the city's planning director (a topic that, in the city of plans, plans and more plans, ran over its one hour time limit by nearly another hour.)
"We did a resolution in support of decriminalization and commercialization within Atlantic City," Gilliam said. But he said the council would not as yet push forward because of likely opposition by Gov. Christie, and the possiblity of being pulled into court.
Gilliam did say he was seeking a change in policy on the part of the city police force to ease off any marijuana citations, but as yet, he said, the police chief was opposed. He said any new industry in town was welcome to make up for the contracting casino business, and he could envision Atlantic City being a legalized, weed-friendly place in the manner of Denver or Seattle.
Gilliam also said he was pushing forward with a vision of a sustainable Atlantic City where new buildings showcased solar panels, turnbines and other technology. As a coastal city, he pointed out, it would be a natural identity to work towards and, perhaps like weed, would attract a different, younger demographic.
"Atlantic City is not going in the old direction," Gilliam said. "We're going to be a green community. It's up to us to design our own brand and brand outselves. What's our brand going to be?"
Evan Sanchez, who runs an Atlantic City awareness group known as "thisisAC" to highlight the positives of the beleaguered city, said: "We have the opportunity to build the city of the future. If we miss the opportunity, somebody else will take it."
The city is also expanding bike lanes in the street, which will soon run along Maryland Avenue to connect to the marina area, and [talking about] bringing in a bike share program. There was a lot of talk about making the city more interesting for people who actually live there, several dozen of whom attended the meeting and batted about ideas.
Many wondered how to get more positive publicity for the town, which is in fact beloved by the people that reside in it, and wondered if Bill Nowling, the $375 an hour spokesman for the state-appointed fiscal Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin, might be available to do some work for the city. Except nobody could remember his name. "I've never seen him a day in my life," Gilliam said.
Nowling, reached later by email, said his contract with the city, which was initially capped at $17,500, had ended. The exact amount he was paid could not be determined Wednesday. Nowling said he had submitted invoices to the city.
The state has been diverting $30 million a year in casino levies to the Atlantic City Alliance for the last three years to promote tourism in the resort, but that organization is slated for extinction under legislation that also includes a new payment in lieu of taxes system for casinos. Gov. Christie has conditionally vetoed the bills, and the NJ Assembly is scheduled to consider the bills in vetoed form Thursday. The $30 million would be earmarked to plug Atlantic City's more pressing fiscal needs instead, with state approval.
Terenik noted that with all the crushing obstacles facing the near bankrupt city, and with so many big ideas bandied about the plan-fatigued city, it was sometimes helpful to think small. She noted that prior master plans had contained a lot of good ideas but failed in executing them.
"I am focused on 100 small things," she said. "The big things are hard to move on."