Atlantic City grapples with how family-friendly it should be

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — On a sunny Sunday in spring, three generations and three branches of Pam Moody’s family went to have fun at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

“We’re actually hard-core Sea Isle people,” said Carrie Siewic, of Burlington County, one of Moody’s daughters. “But we drive here for the Boardwalk.”

With warm weather, the local shoreline fills up with people looking for family fun. And businesses have looked to feed that need with everything from roller coasters and Ferris wheels to pinball parlors and video arcades.

But family-friendly attractions can be difficult to attract, and maintain.

When Gillian’s Funland was in Sea Isle City for five summers, the extended Moody family went there. But Funland closed in 2013, and “we miss that thing,” Siewic said, after her mom, sister, daughter and nephew got off the merry-go-round in Ocean City. “We went all the time until it left. Then we came here.”

New Jersey tourism was a $43.4 billion industry last year, including more than $10 billion spent on recreation, according to a state report released earlier this year. Visitor spending was $6.7 billion in Atlantic County and about $6 billion in Cape May County last year, according to the report.

And coastal towns and businesses have tried to boost spending by families, something easier said than done.

For decades, at least since the first casino opened in Atlantic City in 1978, critics have said the city doesn’t have enough family draws.

“They have one pier. One place for kids on this whole Boardwalk,” said Scott Gardini, of South River, Middlesex County, after a Steel Pier visit with his son, Vincent, 4.

As a kid, he went to the Seaside Heights boards in Ocean County. Now, if he wants to treat his kids to a boardwalk, sometimes he drives right by Atlantic City to Wildwood. He was in Atlantic City with his in-laws last week but said the city should broaden its market with “the casinos… dropping like flies.”

And Atlantic City has tried, desperately at times, to answer those critics.

Steel Pier, which drew families for years with a mix of shticks that ran from rising stars to diving horses, closed after Resorts Casino Hotel opened in 1978. But it was reborn in the 1990s as an amusement pier full of rides and games.

Investors have proposed three water parks in recent years, including two in closed casinos, the Atlantic Club and Revel. So far, not one has shown any progress. And last week, City Council approved tax incentives for a planned “Polercoaster,” a vertical roller coaster at the long-vacant home of yet another former casino, the Sands.

Plus Tropicana Atlantic City, which once had and closed an indoor amusement park, Tivoli Pier, opened a new “Family Fun Station” a few summers ago with 50-plus games.

Back at Wonderland Pier, Brett and Shannon Balsley, of Linwood, watched their daughter, Olivia, 3, spin around happily on a kiddie ride.

The parents go to Atlantic City restaurants, concerts and shows “all the time,” Brett told The Press of Atlantic City (http://bit.ly/1WiXuT1 ). But if they want kicks for the kids, they head the other direction.

“Personally, I think Atlantic City should stay an adult town. … I don’t think you should try to compete with Ocean City and Wildwood. They’ve got the market cornered” on family fun, he said.

That take echoes something Steve Wynn, the casino magnate, told Time magazine in 2001 about family-friendly attractions for his latest Las Vegas resort.

“Not interested. I’m after Mom and Dad,” Wynn said.

“Destinations have to look at their strengths,” said Brian Tyrrell, a hospitality and tourism-management professor at Stockton University. “Look at the strength of Wildwood; it’s family-friendly. Ocean City, the same thing; there’s plenty for (families) to do.

“Certainly there are going to be families with young children who come to Atlantic City occasionally, and there are some things for them,” Tyrrell added. “But in general, that’s not a strength of Atlantic City. I would add, though, that you can still be family-friendly and just not look for families with young children.”

Take his parents. They’re big fans of Atlantic City shows and restaurants— and visiting them with their son.

And because there are different towns with different personalities all along the local coast, he supports marketing that cooperates instead of competing from town to town.

“There certainly is plenty to do in the region,” he said. “That’s one avenue you could take.”

Gillian’s Funland opened in Sea Isle in 2009, after local leaders worked for years to find an amusement park to replace Fun City. That small park ended a 30-year run right off the city’s beach in 2000; the owners sold the land to luxury-home developers.

Mayor Len Desiderio said he wanted a family-friendly draw because after Fun City closed, he got “literally thousands” of requests for something like it. The town finally found a taker when Jay Gillian, the third-generation owner of Ocean City’s main amusement park, agreed to build one on city-owned land just off the bay.

Gillian sunk an estimated $2.5 million into Funland to open it. But it closed for good less than five years later, in 2013, a summer when some rides never ran due to damage from Hurricane Sandy.

And while both city and operator blame Sandy for Funland’s demise, Gillian also said later that the place never took off the way he expected it to. Gillian told The Press in 2014 that “I probably should have left earlier. If it had been about the bottom line, I would have left after the first or second year, the third year at the latest.”

By phone this week, Gillian said the departed park keeps haunting his numbers. He’s paying off close to $1.5 million in debt— and expects to keep paying for another 10 years.

Desiderio praises the efforts in his town of Gillian, who is also Ocean City’s mayor.

“They’re very successful in Ocean City, and we were expecting something similar,” Desiderio said. “My thing was, they couldn’t bounce back” from the hurricane.

“It was the only amusement park being opened in the country (in 2009), and it just didn’t happen. It just didn’t work,” Desiderio added. “Amusements are … a tough, tough business.”

After 87 years of family experience, Gillian can’t disagree.

“Regulations are just unbelievable. Borrowing money is unbelievable. Mom-and-pop amusement parks like us … have so much going against us,” he said. “It’s a short season. We’re competing against schools and camps (for kids). We’re competing against Great Adventure, Disney … the superparks.” And his list goes on.

Still, family-friendly can be money-making, for all concerned.

Kathy Kaufman, of Washington Township, had two of her five grandchildren out last Sunday for a stroll on the Ocean City boards by Wonderland.

She said the town is perfect for families. When her two kids were young, she brought them here. Today, her kids bring their kids. To encourage that, she bought a home in Ocean City— because it’s her favorite family-friendly town.

And around the time she settled on the house, she made another major purchase.

“We just spent $1,400,” she said, “for (ride) tickets for all my grandchildren.”

ad-high_impact_4
News
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive Remembrance Wall
(Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October Blood Drive
Vitalent hosts a blood drive at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, the first anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1October sunrise remembrance ceremony in Las Vegas
Myanda Smith, sister of Las Vegas shooting victim Neysa Tonks, speaks at the sunrise remembrance ceremony at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‪Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to crowd at Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬
‪Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval speaks to the crowd at the Oct. 1 sunrise remembrance ceremony ‬at the Clark County Government Center in downtown Las Vegas, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father of Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim talks about college scholarship in his daughter's memory
Chris Davis, father of a Route 91 Harvest festival shooting victim, Neysa Tonks, talks about a college scholarship in his daughter's memory to assist the children of those who died in the shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Oct. 1 survivor Malinda Baldridge talks about life after the shooting
Malinda Baldridge of Reno attended the Route 91 Harvest festival with her daughter, Breanna, 17, and was shot twice in the leg when the gunman fired on the crowd.
Route 91 survivor talks about lack of progress in gun legislation
Heather Gooze, a Route 91 survivor, talks about lack of progress in gun legislation since the Oct 1. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas/Review-Journal) @reviewjournal
Review held in death of man after encounter with Las Vegas police
The mother of Tashii Brown, who died after an encounter with Las Vegas police on the Strip, not satisfied after public review of evidence. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Museum opening "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials"
The Clark County Museum is opening an exhibit "How We Mourned: Selected Artifacts from the October 1 Memorials" of items left to honor the victims killed in the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like