The folks at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) have a mission to look ahead in Atlantic City. Their job is to redeploy casino tax dollars into projects, most meant to enhance underprivileged areas in New Jersey, particularly Atlantic City.
In some cases, though, CRDA decides to look backward, as is the case with the current Boardwalk Facade Project, meant to give new life to the Boardwalk's retail and open spaces.
"It's not supposed to look like any particular era, but just something of old times," said Thomas J. Meehan III, director of development for CRDA, a nonprofit New Jersey state authority. "We want the facades to look lively, though, to make people want to come to the Boardwalk and have a fun experience."
First up in the façade project and scheduled for completion by Memorial Day are the 1500 and 2500 boardwalk blocks between New York and Kentucky avenues and Bellevue to Texas avenues, respectively.
Each has retail shops, some vacant, but instead of fading paint, sometimes on cheap metal or stucco fronts, they now have a variety of brick, painted concrete block and stone fronts.
The facades are mostly muted pastels, or red or beige on the bricks, and some even have fake turrets or domes for variety. When done, it will invoke a sort of seaside movie set, but that is what Meehan wants.
"The idea is to make it unique and hope we can get some regional or national retailers to come in," he said.
He acknowledged that the shops currently there may not move for a while.
"We had to buy new signs even for the psychics," he said, but added that CRDA will work with the property owners to find more upscale shopkeepers if they, in turn, do more to keep the stores behind the facades.
Over next winter, CRDA hopes to re-facade the 1600 block, between Kentucky Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the 3000 block between Morris and Chelsea avenues.
It's part of a $99 million project to beautify the Boardwalk over three years. The program began with the renovation of the bandshell in Kennedy Plaza, across the boards from Boardwalk Hall.
It had fallen into disrepair, so CRDA shored it up with a steel structure and woodlike aluminum facing. Completed last July, it has an undulating roof that looks like an ocean wave and is supported by steel-and-concrete columns that emulate the design of those on Kennedy Plaza.
Scheduled to open by June 1 is the redesigned Fountain of Light at Brighton Park in front of the old Claridge Casino. It was originally a gift from the General Electric Co. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the light bulb in 1929, and its rudimentary light show was said to be designed by Thomas A. Edison.
Meehan said the redesigned fountain will have 23 colored lights and many water jets, and its dancing waters will run from 10 a.m. to midnight through October.
Next up will be a sprucing-up of Boardwalk entrances in the casino area from the Atlantic City Hilton to the Showboat. Meehan envisions lively scenes with playful or nautical themes on light standards, lifeguard stands or even railings.
"We may even have beach showers, who knows? We want amenities every good beach resort should have," he said.
"These are all little projects, but we feel it's a start to getting Atlantic City, and the Boardwalk especially, moving forward again." *