November 21, 2009

Developer Will Host A.C. Economy Talk

Cordish Co. plans a meeting of government and business leaders a day before Mayor Lorenzo Langford's economic summit.

Call it the summit before the summit.

On the eve of Mayor Lorenzo Langford's high-profile economic summit Tuesday, city leaders will gather for another summit of sorts hosted by a nationally acclaimed development company.

Cordish Co. has invited the mayor and other government officials, members of the business community and casino executives to a meeting Monday that will focus on what the company says is "our common goal of ensuring Atlantic City's ongoing economic vitality."

Cordish is the developer of the popular shopping and entertainment district - known as The Walk - that rejuvenated a formerly blighted area at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway. Cordish has also been recognized for urban development projects across the country, including an extensive facelift of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the company's hometown.

Chairman David S. Cordish is offering his company's help to pull Atlantic City out of its economic malaise. The casino city has been battered by the weak economy and competition from slot parlors in surrounding states.

In an invitation to Monday's meeting, Cordish noted that his company has just started construction on a $15 million expansion of The Walk and is planning another phase - called Atlantic City Live! - that will add an array of entertainment attractions ranging from nightclubs to outdoor concerts

Cordish said The Walk has been racking up higher sales despite the three-year slump in Atlantic City's gaming market. He called for the development of even more "unique entertainment and nongaming attractions" to give Atlantic City a competitive advantage over casinos in neighboring states.

Cordish said his company is prepared to do its part to revive the city, but warned that an economic recovery plan is destined to fail unless there is cooperation among government leaders and the business community.

"While we can share our experience, and be part of the solution, without everyone's cooperation and input, a renaissance in Atlantic City is impossible," Cordish wrote in the invitation.

Don Marrandino, president of the four Harrah's Entertainment Inc. casinos - Harrah's Resort, Bally's, Caesars and Showboat - praised Cordish for taking the initiative.

"I'm a big fan of Cordish's work, and I expect big ideas coming out of this meeting," Marrandino said.

Cordish's forum, to be held at the Carnegie Library Center, is likely to hit on the same themes as the mayor's major summit at City Hall. Members of the business community say a comprehensive economic and transportation plan is needed to transform the city into a safer, more attractive tourist destination.

Jeffrey Vasser, president of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, noted that a third group, the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, is also working on an economic agenda for the region. He said the chamber's plan should mesh with the summits held by Langford and Cordish.

"Obviously, Cordish and the chamber need the mayor's support and the mayor, conversely, needs help from the business community," Vasser said. "Ultimately, all three groups need to work together. I don't view it necessarily as three competing organizations."

George Lynn, a former president and chief executive officer of AtlantiCare, is heading the chamber's efforts. Pledging the chamber's cooperation, he said the organization will help coordinate the economic plans that emerge from the different meetings.

"I think it's terrific that the mayor is holding a strategic summit. I think it's great that Cordish is stepping up," Lynn said. "Probably our biggest task is making sure we are not stepping on each other's toes, but are coordinating our agendas for one vision."