56 MEETINGSTODAY 12. 15
organizations seeking to grow,” explains Executive Director
In the role since October 2011, Palmieri brings more
than three decades of public service experience in urban
development, including successful engagements in Providence, R.I.; Boston; Hartford, Conn.; and Charlotte, N.C.
Taking stock of his tenure so far, he is encouraged by the
“It’s well understood that rising competition mandated
that Atlantic City move toward a more diversified econ-
omy,” Palmieri says. “Heading into 2015, however, I’d say
that move became more aggressive, with a greater sense of
urgency. Today, all stakeholders are on board. Everybody
understands what has to be done, and what we are here to
In Las Vegas and other gaming destinations, the rallying
cry of “product diversification” typically means comple-
menting and enhancing the casino base with new entertain-
ment, F&B, experiential, major event and related offerings.
While Atlantic City has those covered, along with its Atlan-
tic City Convention Center, the reinvigorated commitment
to a non-gaming footprint here goes deeper.
“The focus now is acting more aggressively and efficiently
to expand beyond gaming, entertainment and hospitality to
other sectors, such as education and healthcare,” Palmieri
says. “While we are down to eight casinos, receipts have
actually been decent, so there’s stability there as CRDA
continues to evaluate new redevelopment opportu-
nities. It will take time, but the commitment and
urgency are there.”
Atlantic City continues to receive most of CRDA’s
statutory reinvestment of 1.25 percent of gaming
revenues. Of the $1.8 billion reinvested in over 400
statewide projects since 1984, more than $1.5 billion
has gone to Atlantic City, where all eight remain-
ing resort-casinos are CRDA investment partners. As
CRDA-supported activity surges forward, meetings and
events are very much in the framework.
With lineage back to 1868, including opening in 1978 as
Atlantic City’s first casino hotel, and the first legal casino outside of Nevada—Resorts Casino Hotel is a prime
CRDA-supported success story.
Announced one year ago, the property undertook a $9.4
million expansion of its convention space. Unveiled in August 2015, the result is the dynamic new 12,000-square-foot
Resorts Conference Center. Featuring 11 new conference
rooms, the state-of-the-art center boosts Resorts’ total
meeting and event capacity to more than 64,000 square feet
of new and refreshed space, including the 6,500-square-foot
Atlantic Ballroom, offering singular ocean views.
The expansion follows some $80 million in other recent
renovations and enhancements, including the $35 million Jimmy Buffet-themed Margaritaville Entertainment
Complex. Collectively, the transformations have proven a
beacon to planners, with group bookings up double digits
year-over-year since 2013, and wins including the March
2016 New Jersey Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
“The completion of our new technologically advanced
conference center, in conjunction with the numerous
With past sojourns including seeing the Rolling Stones play Boardwalk Hall in 1989—that year the pinnacle of one
boom era—to attending the grand opening of the
luxurious non-gaming Water Club in 2008, the
sister property to Borgata, and signature diversi-
fication product, I count myself among those with
Atlantic City’s “sand in my shoes.”
In September, I came back to attend the rib-
bon-cutting and fireworks celebration for the new
$125.8 million Harrah’s Atlantic City Waterfront
Conference Center ( www.caesars.com/harrahs-ac).
Ahead of the ceremony, I spent a day traversing
the Boardwalk. In part, it was a reunion with old
friends, including Caesars, Bally’s, Miss America
statue and stage, Steel Pier amusement park, and
the monumental Boardwalk Hall.
It was also an opportunity to see new developments,
such as Tropicana’s new outdoor LED signage and
the dynamic new conference space and other
improvements at Resorts Casino Hotel.
Chatting with locals and visitors on the
Boardwalk, beach and inside the resorts con-
firmed that many others wear sandy shoes,
too. The sobering note, of course, was the
haunting abandonment of the Boardwalk’s
north end, where the shuttered Revel and
Showboat are stark reminders of pummeling
setback, lost jobs and economic struggle.
At Harrah’s, however, it’s a bright new day. “Just like
the fighter that won’t go down,” I said of Atlantic City to Michael Massari,
Caesars’ senior vice president of national meetings and events, before the
ribbon-cutting the following day. That resonated with the native Philadel-
phian, whose own story of resilience and resourcefulness in the meetings
industry began as a teenager, when he filled in an open spot working an
event and “never looked back.”
The new conference center should help set Atlantic City on a similar path.
Filling a marked void in the Northeast’s $16 billion meetings market, the
100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility seamlessly integrates with
all of Harrah’s assets. Capable of hosting 5,000 attendees under one roof, it
creates the largest conference-hotel complex from Baltimore to Boston.
As noted at the ceremony, groups would have to go to Orlando, Dallas
or Vegas to find the like. With a full-blown convention taking place inside
as local and state officials joined Caesars’ executives in cutting the ribbon,
the venue is already paying major-league dividends. In 2014, Harrah’s had
7,000 room nights booked for the 12 months ahead. With some 97 meetings
already confirmed through 2019 at the new facility—including MPI’s World
Education Congress in June 2016—room nights catapulted to 97,000 for the
Sand in the shoes, anyone?
ON SCENE THE
Atlantic City Mayor
Harrah’s Atlantic City