Atlantic City Is Improving Its Meetings Game

Resorts Casino Hotel stock art

Having landed one of the most coveted meetings of all, Jim Wood, the president and CEO of MeetAC, is thrilled. From June 11 through 14, MPI's 2016 World Education Congress will bring 1,000-1,200 meeting professionals to Atlantic City and some 2,000 attendees in all. Working with Caesars Entertainment (Harrah's parent company), MeetAC put together "a very attractive package," says Wood, with the brand-new Harrah's Waterfront Conference Center slated to handle the multiple sessions and networking events for the WEC.

The 2016 convention was originally booked by Philadelphia, but MPI put it back out to bid due to changes in the space available for the conference. "We're happy that we were selected," says Wood, who notes that Atlantic City has never before hosted the MPI WEC. In fact, the international meeting has never come to New Jersey. Sweeter still, Atlantic City won against multiple cities bidding.

Atlantic City has been in the convention market since 1929, when what is now Boardwalk Hall opened; back then it was named the Atlantic City Convention Hall. In 1997, the Atlantic City Convention Center opened with 486,600 contiguous square feet of exhibit space and another 109,100 square feet in its 45 meeting rooms. That facility is still filling its niche well, booking meetings for as many as 45,000 attendees. But what the city had lacked until now was a mid-sized facility that would handle the many events of corporate meeting planners in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Waterfront Conference Center, which is nestled next to Harrah's Resort in the Marina district of Atlantic City, is the solution to that.

Containing 100,000 square feet of space in total, the Waterfront Conference Center, which opened last September, offers tremendous flexibility. "With over 1,000 air wall panels, we can create hundreds of meeting combinations and turn them around very quickly," says Steve van der Molen, Caesars Entertainment's vice president of catering and conventions for Atlantic City. Two pillarless, 50,000-square-foot ballrooms are possible, or configurations with 63 individual meeting rooms. Though many of the users will be smaller, "We have an event for 5,000 attendees coming up in March," he adds.

That it is the largest hotel conference center between Boston and Baltimore gives MeetAC and Harrah's another talking point when selling the new facility. "The booking pace is exceeding our expectations on all levels," says van der Molen. Elaborate events with broadcast sessions and teleconferences can make use of the designated satellite-truck parking area providing connectivity right into the building, the cables feeding underneath the floor directly into the ballroom. There are more than 100 rigging points equipped with remote hoist-controls, and the conference center is Silver LEED certified. Plus, there's a brand-new culinary facility. "All of these aspects have come together to make this a truly state-of-the art facility," he says.


New and About to Debut

MPI delegates arriving in June will find lots of new meetings infrastructure. At the 942-room Resorts Casino Hotel, a new conference center opened last August with a ballroom that can be configured into five spaces. Surrounding it are eight smaller meeting rooms. Designed with wireless connectivity and the latest A/V technology, such as a multiview display that allows up to four devices to share the screen, touch-panel controls, and built-in wireless microphones, the conference center should handle events that are engaging for presenters as well as attendees. In addition, Resorts installed higher-resolution capabilities -- 1080p -- on all screens in anticipation of future needs. Unusual for a casino property, the pre-function space has natural lighting.

The New Jersey Tourism Industry Association will hold its 2016 New Jersey Governor's Conference on Tourism at the new Resorts Conference Center in March. "We have strategically repositioned Resorts into a more vibrant destination to capture more convention business," said Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, in a statement. "As the only Atlantic City hotel with dramatic floor-to-ceiling ocean-view ballrooms, combined with Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Entertainment Complex, we're able to offer meeting planners and their attendees a variety of venues for both their business and social programs."

Restaurants run by celebrity chefs are adding pizzazz to the new Atlantic City scene and are an answer to the question, "What can my delegates do after five o'clock?" Scottish-born Michelin luminary Gordon Ramsay opened a sibling of his Las Vegas spot, Gordon Ramsay's Pub & Grill, about a year ago in Caesars Atlantic City. Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Guy Fieri's Chop House at Bally's Atlantic City are others that draw foodies and gourmets. Celebrity chefs' restaurants, says Wood, "do a tremendous amount of business. The quality is terrific, reputation is without question, and the service is impeccable."

Coming next fall will be a Michael Symon restaurant at the Borgata (where Wolfgang Puck and Geoffrey Zakarian also have restaurants). Of Iron Chef fame, Symon is the chef and owner at Cleveland restaurants Lola Bistro, Lolita, and Mabel's BBQ. He also created Roast in Detroit's Westin Book Cadillac. This will be his first Italian eatery.

Dock's Oyster House, a 120-year-old Atlantic City institution, is adding a three-floor addition to give its dining room and raw bar roughly twice the space they have had. The renovation is scheduled for completion in May.

This spring the Borgata has a new nightlife experience opening, Premier Nightclub, designed by Josh Held, the talent behind Marquee NYC, TAO Las Vegas, and Voyeur Los Angeles. At Premier, guests will have the option of sitting in the reserve-ahead tiered booths focused on the deejay booth, or dancing beneath a six-foot-wide disco ball set inside a 25-foot-wide chandelier with programmable light.

The Tropicana opened a new nightclub last July, called 10 North Lounge, which features handpicked, high-end wine offerings, microbrews, and unusual cocktails. The Tropicana's own blend of aged Patrón tequila is among the liquors served. The lounge is smoker-friendly, has bar-top slots, and features a double-sided fireplace and views out over the casino floor.
Earning Recognition
Last June, Atlantic City took the title Best Gambling Destination in the world in USA Today's "10Best Reader's Choice" poll. That was a nice acknowledgment, coming just after a flurry of bad news. First, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline hard, destroying other communities but leaving little damage in Atlantic City. Nevertheless, by featuring a shot of some man-made destruction for renovation work on the Boardwalk, NBC News left the mistaken impression of a city crumbling into the ocean.

Then in 2014, four casinos closed. It was a "correction of the gaming market," says Wood, "that occurred because of the proliferation of gaming in the Northeast and really all across America." Now it looks as though two of the shuttered casinos will be staging comebacks. Revel Hotel has been sold to a new owner as has the Showboat. Meanwhile, the remaining eight casinos in the city have invested substantially to add features to their properties, says Wood.

Historic Boardwalk Hall, which is now primarily a music venue (Janet Jackson is performing there June 11 -- yep, the night that MPI's meeting begins), received kudos from Venues Today, which recognized it as tops for its size, based on concert and event grosses from Oct. 16, 2014, through May 15, 2015.

And if Atlantic City and her guests needed validation that the restaurants are capable of creativity and excellence, the Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society, held an event at Sammy D's in Harrah's in November. "They had such a good experience they're coming back to Dos Caminos in February," says Jeffrey Vasser, a vice president of BR Guest Hospitality, who is responsible for overseeing Sammy D's, Dos Caminios, and Bill's Bar & Burger; all three are joint ventures of BR Guest Hospitality and Harrah's Atlantic City. When Chaine returns, "they're going to take the whole restaurant," he says.

Dos Caminos has private dining rooms and offers beautiful views of Absecon Bay. The menu is Mexican-themed, with specials such as Oaxacan Shrimp Quesadilla, Herb Roasted Chicken, and guacamole that is hard to beat.

Sammy D's is situated at the entrance to the Waterside Conference Center, where it is "perfectly located for private events," says Vasser. He characterizes its menu as "an eclectic mix of creativity coming from Chef Sammy DeMarco." While Sammy D's is mostly a breakfast and lunch place (one signature dish is eggs over a donut with pulled pork and hollandaise sauce), there is a dinner menu and menus for family-style group dining. The restaurant will also work with planners to create menus.


Timeless Attributes 
The five-mile-long, world-famous Boardwalk and the beach that it borders are Atlantic City's most distinctive assets. Additional drawing cards are the variety of local golf courses, including the European links-style course at McCullough's Emerald Golf Links, where the undulating greens, scenic water hazards, and elevation changes of 100 feet or more make for beautiful views as well as challenging play.

The Marina district, where the Golden Nugget, Harrah's, and the Borgata are all located, is becoming a self-contained destination with the sort of conference space that gains planners' notice. In addition to upscale accommodations at the 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, there is event space that can accommodate up to 3,000 persons for a dinner, among the 37 meeting rooms. The 724-room Golden Nugget with a marina, a spa, and a casino, has meeting and function space for up to 4,000 guests. And Harrah's Resort, with 2,500 guest rooms and 125,000 square feet of meeting space (including the Waterfront Conference Center), offers several special venues: the Viking Cooking School, with hands-on teaching kitchen; Harrah's Concert Venue, seating 1,200; and the Pool at Harrah's, under a 90-foot dome, warm and gorgeous for evening events.

 

The neighborhoods surrounding these properties are pleasant and historic. "It's a great citywide destination," says Vasser, the former president and CEO of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, of the Marina district. "You can get some authentic Italian cuisine from families that have been doing it for three generations," like Angelo's Fairmount Tavern or the White House Sub Shop.

Whether your choice is one of the hotels near the Boardwalk or in the Marina, transportation is never an issue; the city is quite compact. "The hotels are all proximate to the convention center, so planners don't need to make a significant investment in transportation," says Vasser. "The number of rooms we have in the destination and the significant amount of meeting space gives a planner something for everybody."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

WHERE TO…
PLAY - Stockton Seaview Golf Club
The Stockton Seaview Golf Club is historic, its two courses built in 1915 and 1929. It has hosted a long list of golf greats, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Nancy Lopez, and Gene Sarazen, and golfers who are famous for something else, like Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Bing Crosby.

DINE - Grotto Ristorante
People are raving about the new menu at Grotto Ristorante in the Golden Nugget. It was created by Chef Carmine Favuzzi, born and trained in Italy. He has added peperoni arrostiti Siciliani (a dish of marinated roasted red peppers and eggplant with pine nuts and aged balsamic vinegar), rigatoni with fried eggplant and ricotta salata, branzino filet, and wood-fired pizzas. Groups are easily accommodated.

STROLL - Atlantic City Boardwalk
The Boardwalk, Atlantic City's venerable landmark, was originally just a practical solution for keeping sand out of the carpets of the posh hotels and the railroad cars that brought in the tourists. Now the world-famous boardwalk offers one of the most popular attractions in the city.


Earning Recognition
Last June, Atlantic City took the title Best Gambling Destination in the world in USA Today's "10Best Reader's Choice" poll. That was a nice acknowledgment, coming just after a flurry of bad news. First, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline hard, destroying other communities but leaving little damage in Atlantic City. Nevertheless, by featuring a shot of some man-made destruction for renovation work on the Boardwalk, NBC News left the mistaken impression of a city crumbling into the ocean.

Then in 2014, four casinos closed. It was a "correction of the gaming market," says Wood, "that occurred because of the proliferation of gaming in the Northeast and really all across America." Now it looks as though two of the shuttered casinos will be staging comebacks. Revel Hotel has been sold to a new owner as has the Showboat. Meanwhile, the remaining eight casinos in the city have invested substantially to add features to their properties, says Wood.

Historic Boardwalk Hall, which is now primarily a music venue (Janet Jackson is performing there June 11 -- yep, the night that MPI's meeting begins), received kudos from Venues Today, which recognized it as tops for its size, based on concert and event grosses from Oct. 16, 2014, through May 15, 2015.

And if Atlantic City and her guests needed validation that the restaurants are capable of creativity and excellence, the Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society, held an event at Sammy D's in Harrah's in November. "They had such a good experience they're coming back to Dos Caminos in February," says Jeffrey Vasser, a vice president of BR Guest Hospitality, who is responsible for overseeing Sammy D's, Dos Caminios, and Bill's Bar & Burger; all three are joint ventures of BR Guest Hospitality and Harrah's Atlantic City. When Chaine returns, "they're going to take the whole restaurant," he says.

Dos Caminos has private dining rooms and offers beautiful views of Absecon Bay. The menu is Mexican-themed, with specials such as Oaxacan Shrimp Quesadilla, Herb Roasted Chicken, and guacamole that is hard to beat.

Sammy D's is situated at the entrance to the Waterside Conference Center, where it is "perfectly located for private events," says Vasser. He characterizes its menu as "an eclectic mix of creativity coming from Chef Sammy DeMarco." While Sammy D's is mostly a breakfast and lunch place (one signature dish is eggs over a donut with pulled pork and hollandaise sauce), there is a dinner menu and menus for family-style group dining. The restaurant will also work with planners to create menus.


Timeless Attributes 
The five-mile-long, world-famous Boardwalk and the beach that it borders are Atlantic City's most distinctive assets. Additional drawing cards are the variety of local golf courses, including the European links-style course at McCullough's Emerald Golf Links, where the undulating greens, scenic water hazards, and elevation changes of 100 feet or more make for beautiful views as well as challenging play.

The Marina district, where the Golden Nugget, Harrah's, and the Borgata are all located, is becoming a self-contained destination with the sort of conference space that gains planners' notice. In addition to upscale accommodations at the 2,000-room Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, there is event space that can accommodate up to 3,000 persons for a dinner, among the 37 meeting rooms. The 724-room Golden Nugget with a marina, a spa, and a casino, has meeting and function space for up to 4,000 guests. And Harrah's Resort, with 2,500 guest rooms and 125,000 square feet of meeting space (including the Waterfront Conference Center), offers several special venues: the Viking Cooking School, with hands-on teaching kitchen; Harrah's Concert Venue, seating 1,200; and the Pool at Harrah's, under a 90-foot dome, warm and gorgeous for evening events.

 

The Marina district offers plenty
of fun, but also a wealth of
meeting spaces nearby
The Marina district offers plenty of fun, but also a wealth of meeting spaces nearby

The neighborhoods surrounding these properties are pleasant and historic. "It's a great citywide destination," says Vasser, the former president and CEO of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, of the Marina district. "You can get some authentic Italian cuisine from families that have been doing it for three generations," like Angelo's Fairmount Tavern or the White House Sub Shop.

Whether your choice is one of the hotels near the Boardwalk or in the Marina, transportation is never an issue; the city is quite compact. "The hotels are all proximate to the convention center, so planners don't need to make a significant investment in transportation," says Vasser. "The number of rooms we have in the destination and the significant amount of meeting space gives a planner something for everybody."  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.