Atlantic City Seeks Conventions With New Towers...


closed account
Apr 24, 2004
A Vault!
Atlantic City seeks conventions with new towers
By Suzette Parmley


ATLANTIC CITY - Today's festive ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $387 million Waterfront Tower at Harrah's Marina casino here was part of a serious business undertaking:

To significantly boost this seaside resort's midweek convention and meeting business.

With thousands of new hotel rooms on the way, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Gary Loveman said it was doable. The company also owns the Caesars, Bally's and Showboat casinos here.

"The arrival of this tower today, the one at the Taj Mahal, and the one at Borgata will substantially enhance the capacity of this city to meaningfully compete for and entertain convention and meeting business," Loveman said. "I think that is encouraging.

"One of the impediments to this has historically been that we've never had sufficient rooms to accommodate convention and meeting guests," he said, "since we were allocating all those rooms to gaming customers."

The 45-story Waterfront Tower represents the third and final phase of a $550 million expansion at Harrah's Marina. At 525 feet, it becomes Atlantic City's tallest building and the second-tallest structure in the state. It also increases the number of hotel rooms at the casino nearly 60 percent, to 2,590.

Two other towers - the Borgata's $400 million, 800-room Water Club tower and a $255 million, 786-room tower at the Trump Taj Mahal - will open in the summer.

Combined, the three towers will add 2,547 rooms to the current 14,575 casino-hotel room inventory, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

The new towers represent a critical step in Atlantic City's metamorphosis into an overnight destination with fine restaurants, upscale shopping and fancy hotels, in addition to gaming.

Since 2004, Atlantic City has gradually weaned itself from a less profitable day-tripper clientele, which new slots parlors in Pennsylvania and New York are now aggressively courting.

Jeffrey S. Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the resort's chief marketing arm, said new attractions and the prospect of adding rooms had boosted the convention and meeting business this year.

The "future booking" statistics for January and February of this year are up substantially from the same months in 2007, according to the ACCVA.

Estimated room nights, or nights expected to be filled by conventioneers, increased 47 percent to 48,233 nights from 32,884 nights in 2007.

Estimated attendees went up 100 percent, to 219,260 from 109,787. And estimated delegate spending, which includes transportation, hotels, meals and entertainment, went up 152 percent. It increased to $96.2 million this year from $38.2 million.

"These . . . are indicative of the increases we've been seeing for the past couple of years," said Gary Musich, vice president of convention development at the ACCVA.

R. Scott Barber, Harrah's Marina's general manager, said that three years ago about 92 percent of the casino's rooms were "comped," or given away, to its most loyal customers. He said that now about 25 percent to 35 percent of the rooms were sold. And since opening, about 65 percent of the Waterfront Tower rooms have been sold.

"What that's allowed us to do is go out and speak to new customers and open up new marketing channels," including partnerships with L.P., Orbitz Worldwide Inc. and Expedia Inc., to book their Harrah's rooms online, he said.

Atlantic City is going after cash-paying customers - such as Pat and Peter Shannon, both 75, of North Jersey - big-time.

"Yeah, we'll pay for a room," Pat Shannon said as the couple checked in today at the Harbour Tower at Harrah's Marina, now one of five towers there, for a two-day, one-night stay. "The city's cleaned up, and there's a lot to do."