ATLANTIC CITY - Maybe you've noticed the new lighting on the Boardwalk. Or the dozens of "ambassadors" along it eager to answer questions about where to dine, shop, or just have fun.
Most likely, you've seen the splashy "DO AC" ads on TV and billboards, or heard them on the radio.
All are part of a bigger effort, along with the Atlantic City Tourism District that was created last year by Gov. Christie and the Legislature, to boost tourism and give the Queen of Resorts a makeover.
"We are trying to enhance the visitor experience," said John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which is working with the nonprofit Atlantic City Alliance to rebrand and promote the city as more than a gaming destination. "We're tripling the number of ambassadors in the tourism district so people who need help can ask for it."
Palmieri said 10 to 15 additional ambassadors would be hired by Memorial Day to start work over the Fourth of July weekend, bringing the total to 75.
"We're creating the proper threshold environment for a good visitation experience, with smarter deployment of police around the casinos, better lighting on the Boardwalk, and more ambassadors," Palmieri said. "Artlantic" - an initiative to turn vacant lots along the Boardwalk into sites with art - is also being expanded.
Jaime Dean, 24, of Leonard Town, Md., visited Atlantic City for the first time last month. He made the 41/2-hour drive to the resort with friends.
"The bars are pretty good, and there are a lot of pretty women," Dean said just before midnight on a recent Saturday as he listened to a live band in the Gypsy Bar at Borgata. "I've enjoyed myself highly. I'll probably come back this summer."
That's music to A.C. casino operators' ears.
"We consider this summer to be just as important as any other," said Tony Rodio, Tropicana president and chief executive. "Thankfully, our Boardwalk and beach are, and have been, open and ready for business."
Rodio said the misperception that Sandy wiped out both still lingers.
Said Joe Lupo, senior vice president of operations at Borgata: "We're certainly hoping to get a good summer - it's always been strong. The volume is still there, but spending habits have changed for whatever reason. Customers have pulled back . . .. We're expecting things to improve."
Resorts, A.C.'s first casino, which opened May 26, 1978, has a new co-owner, Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (which owns Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut and Pennsylvania), and is repositioning the property to be a real player.
The Connecticut company and Resorts' majority owner, Morris Bailey, are behind Margaritaville - a $35 million expansion that will have its grand opening Memorial Day weekend.
"With the architecture and [ocean] views, there's nothing like it anywhere in Atlantic City," said Mark Giannantonio, president and chief executive of Resorts. "It's a real big game changer for us, and Atlantic City in general, with Jimmy Buffet's following."
An additional $25 million is being spent on renovations throughout Resorts, including a new food court with five tenants: Ruby's Diner, Famous Familia Pizza, the Original Soup Man, Dunkin' Donuts Express, and Haagen-Dazs. Bathrooms in all 500 rooms in its Ocean Tower are being redone, with more than half to be completed by Memorial Day weekend. A casino entrance is being added at North Carolina Avenue off Pacific Avenue, with new streetscaping and a repaved surface parking lot with new lighting. New retail outlets - including Lick, a candy store, and A Time For Wine, for liquor and cigars - are being rolled out.
"The casinos and businesses here are all poised to do well this summer," Giannantonio said. "We all feel we will get a nice bounce this season."
As 2 a.m. neared on a recent Saturday, mur.mur in Borgata was hopping. DJ Spider from Los Angeles was working the crowd.
"Atlantic City has expanded to have a nightlife," said Gary Radziak, 29, of Philadelphia, among those packed inside the Las Vegas-style nightclub. "You can't find this nightlife anywhere else on the East Coast. It's unique to Jersey."
The summer means a fresh start for Revel, which just emerged from bankruptcy. Interim CEO Jeffrey Hartmann has plans to relaunch Revel later this month to showcase its new offerings, including a beach bar, noodle bar, high-limit slots area, players lounge, and designated smoking areas on the gaming floor. Revel opened April 2, 2012, as Atlantic City's first fully nonsmoking casino.
"The summer season is the ideal opportunity to reintroduce Atlantic City as a destination actively making enhancements to its dining, entertainment, and retail offering, and no one embodies this image better than Revel," Hartmann said. "Through our expanding range of amenities, we are uniquely positioned to cater to all segments of tourism, including gaming, leisure, and business-meeting guests."
That will include Sharlene Pale, 30, of Brooklyn, who made a day trip recently "just to gamble."
Pale said she planned to revisit Revel after its relaunch. "It's a beautiful casino."
To keep visitors busy all summer, the Atlantic City Alliance has created "an incredibly robust calendar of events," Alliance president Liza Cartmell said. It starts with Boardwalk Beat, the third installment of the 3D sound-and-light show on the facade of Boardwalk Hall, debuting Memorial Day weekend.
Then there's the World Championship of Sand Sculpting (June 13-30), the Atlantic City Offshore Grand Prix (June 23), Atlantic City Airshow (June 26), and the Miss America Pageant's anticipated return in September.
"We're fighting with competing destinations," Cartmell said. "They're all looking to steal tourists from Atlantic City.
"[Tourism] is our third-biggest industry in the state, and we can't afford that," she said. "We are ready and willing to embrace anyone who's coming here for a vacation or getaway."