Redevelopment plans would create a haven for artists and students in the heart of Atlantic City and fulfill a promise to recreate its famed Ducktown neighborhood.
Frank Formica, one of the owners of Formica Bros. Bakery, can think back to a time in the early ’90s, when the redevelopment of Ducktown, that central neighborhood of Atlantic City traditionally thought of as Texas to Missouri avenues, from the bay to Atlantic Avenue, seemed to be on the front burner.
Neighborhood leaders such as himself and other Ducktown business owners, plus officials from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) even met with the mayor of Hartford, Conn., to discuss how that city had transformed one of its most blighted sections into a thriving arts colony.
But while the CRDA has been busily, if slowly, transforming and revitalizing parts of Atlantic City since then — including the development of the very successful The Walk retail outlet stores, which borders and now includes some of the traditional Ducktown area — Ducktown’s arts district never materialized.
Now, a decade and a half later, the idea is back. The CRDA last month authorized $70,000 for an initial study to create a “neighborhood strategy area” — designed to outline a plan to transform Atlantic City neighborhoods into an arts district and others into medical and education districts. The CRDA could begin land acquisition in the area as early as February.
The CRDA study area actually runs from Florida to South Carolina avenues, from the Boardwalk to Baltic Avenue. But its center would be Mississippi Avenue, right in the heart of Ducktown.
And that means Ducktown’s potential redevelopment is back in the news.
“My initial reaction is that it’s fantastic,” says Formica, now an Atlantic County Freeholder. “All of us that have been involved with Ducktown’s development have always known the potential that is here. And now, I think we have some strong reasons that it will finally succeed.”
And that hope comes from how much more there is to start with than there has been in the past. The CRDA study will be buoyed by how much has already been put in place since the 1990s.
“I think one of the main things we have going for us is Dante Hall, says Formica. “That is just a beautiful facility. It has this beautiful architecture and it’s just the prefect type of venue for the area.”
The Dante Hall Performing Arts Center was refurbished with a $3.5 million renovation funded by the CRDA seven years ago. Since then, Dante Hall presented shows and performances to local audiences, but eventually, unable to draw large enough crowds, went dark in 2009.
When that happened, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey stepped in and entered into negotiations with St. Michael’s R.C. parish to takeover the venue.
Those negotiations are still progressing, but officials say a final deal is very close.
“The negotiations have been progressing over a long period,” says Tim Kelly, spokesman for the college. “But it does look like we’re very close to a favorable outcome. We’re very excited by the prospect. It’s a beautiful space and we think it will be a great piece of our presence in the arts in the community.”
With Stockton, Dante Hall would become part of the successful entertainment programs the college currently runs at its own Performing Arts Center in Galloway Twp. and its successful Music Pier series summer in Ocean City. The college also operates the Noyes Museum in Galloway and its own main campus art gallery.
Formica thinks Stockton can make Dante Hall thrive.
“Dante Hall did have its problems,” says Formica, who also sat on the board of the theater. “But I think realistically, it happened at a time when 60 percent of all the theaters and arts center in New Jersey were having problems. And I’ve always felt that it was hurt by the absence of parking in the area and also, that absence of a thriving business district around it. That’s what is being addressed now.”
A revitalized Dante Hall is one component, but the really big player is Boardwalk Hall. Again, it’s a facility that has seen an extensive renovation (a $90 million renovation started in 1998) since talk first began of an arts colony in Ducktown.
Little needs to be fixed at Boardwalk Hall now as the venue was again ranked as one of the top mid-sized arenas in the country this year.
But other CRDA funded projects have also upped the ante. Midtown Atlantic City is now identified with Atlantic City Outlets stores The Walk, one of the most successful commercial projects the city has seen in decades.
The project is currently undergoing its third expansion and construction has just begun on a $38.4 million, 1,200 space parking garage at Fairmount and Mississippi Aves, scheduled to take 14 months to complete.
With these pieces already in place, the CRDA study will concentrate on creating neighborhoods for both artists and students attending facilities from Atlantic Cape Community College and Stockton, which both already have a presence in the city north of Ducktown.
The CRDA hopes to transform existing buildings into housing for artists, as well as students and workers in the medical and hospitality industries.
A study already done for CRDA by Artspace USA, a Minneapolis based firm, has found that enough artists live in the region to support studios and art galleries in a new arts district.
That’s echoed by local art teacher Susan Rau, an art teacher with the Ocean City Arts League and an art gallery owner in Millville, which is also trying to create an arts district.
“I can tell you that there are a lot of artists who live in South Jersey,” she says. “It’s a very active community. I don’t know a lot about what is being planned for Atlantic City, but I do know that when we have Boardwalk art shows in Ocean City, artists come from all over the region.”
The tourist attraction of an art colony also enters into the picture, as regular visitors to the city could easily up the visibility for gallery owners and artists.
But a significant part of the CRDA plan also focuses on education. Again, pieces of that puzzle are already in place.
For example, Atlantic Cape Community College has its Charles D. Worthington Atlantic City Campus on Bacharach Boulevard. The campus is already funded for a $10 million expansion to include a new Hospitality Studies Center and also health-care professional and job training programs. Half the funding is coming from CRDA and half from Atlantic County.
The expansion is part of a commitment by the college to bring job-training programs directly to the markets where they are needed, says college president Peter Mora.
“We have a long-standing history in Atlantic City,” says Mora. “We’ve been in the city since 1982. I testified in favor of this study and I feel the education community should support it. It’s one of the most visionary programs The CRDA has ever had.”
Programs for the Hospitality center would include, for example, training for line cooks and other restaurant jobs not currently taught at ACCC’s Academy of Culinary Arts on its Mays Landing campus.
Meanwhile, Stockton already runs programs and classes at its Carnegie Library Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard. While Stockton officials have not announced any expansion plans, it’s certain the school would be involved with the district, especially if the college runs Dante Hall.
And, of course, the AtlanticCare Regional Medical Center, Atlantic City Campus, would also be in the district.
For Formica and other Ducktown merchants, the CRDA focus means it’s time to start thinking about what’s left to do in Ducktown, and for that matter midtown Atlantic City.
Formica says plans are already underway to open an authentic Italian market in the heart of the Mississippi Avenue corridor. And the CRDA is also funding a $500,000 project to light up Boardwalk Hall’s famous dome.
And all of it can only help the city, both from a tourist’s and resident’s point of view.
“Atlantic City has always been based on tourism,” says Formica. “But this plan could re-enliven the whole city.”
"The CRDA and ACA are creating a powerful synergy with the arts that is attracting more visitors and increased interest in Atlantic City from the arts community."
The first production by Dante Hall’s in-house production group, Ninth Circle Players, 'Italian American Reconciliation,' is a comic folktale that explores the dynamics of male and female relationships.
“We really [see the skatepark] as an opportunity [to complement] all of the other non-gaming kinds of activities that we want to support,” says Palmieri. “And we own a few parcels and this one we thought would be a potentially very good location.”
Wheels have been in motion for quite a while regarding Atlantic City’s vision of creating an arts district, and a stronger presence in town for such cultured pursuits as painting and sculpture, theater and dancing, classical music and more.
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There is something mysterious at work in the life of artist Aleksandra Puzyn, a 28 year old from Poland who has found herself ensconced in Atlantic City’s past — and its present — all at the same time. And for those who have a particularly strong faith, perhaps mysterious isn’t strong enough a word.
Aside from calling, writing, e-mailing, or using a new Web site the CRDA says is in development for users to share ideas, as well as offer new ideas and projects, there are public CRDA meetings (on the third Tuesday of every month; the next one is Nov. 15) that you can attend to vocalize your support for certain projects or offer new ideas.
Further, as Atlantic City Weekly has learned earlier this week that two key associates at the CRDA who were spearheading an Arts District campaign for Mississippi Avenue in the Ducktown neighborhood of the resort, are both no longer with the CRDA,
Plus DrewToonz (Ron Pauly D!) and the Album of the Week: 'The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams'
It’s a partnership that has become almost legendary in Atlantic City — John Schultz and Gary Hill ....
Renovated housing attracts better tenants, which attracts more renovations in the neighborhood. By fixing what we have already, we can immediately put local people to work without the politics of the unions and commercial construction or out of town development interests.
Flanked by several paintings by local artists, Richard Stockton College president Herman Saatkamp warmed up a crowd of over 100 regional artists of various disciplines, intellectuals and public figures on Tuesday night, June 28, at Dante Hall for a presentation by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA). The evening marked the next step in creating an arts and cultural district in Atlantic City.
Fabulous Thunderbirds with Kim Wilson perform July 11 for free in the summer Monday night music series at Kennedy Plaza.
Tuesday, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) begins a process of finding out what artists think of the district and what they’d like to see included in plans through an official survey the state funding authority hopes will reach 3,000 area and regional artists.
One may wonder at the neighbor who spends all night working out of a 16-foot box truck. But that’s exactly what local sculptor and mixed-media artist Lennox Warner has had to do at times, in order to complete his work. ...
A large portion of the plan was devoted to creating non-gaming related facilities. Practical amenities such as a grocery store, as well as more cultural offerings such as an arts district, would serve to bring a more family oriented feel to Atlantic City.
In furthering their plan to revitalize Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) will be making a presentation at the Urban Land Institute’s “Atlantic City Investment Conference” on Wednesday, April 13, at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
"I love my beach art. ... Waves are powerful. Capturing that power unleashes my own. I feel something with every piece. When it comes out of me, it’s like saying 'hello' to a new friend. When I sell it, it’s like saying 'goodbye' to an old one.”
“This is an important time in Atlantic City’s development and future history as planning and oversight is joined with New Jersey and the CRDA. It’s important that we do what we can to shine in our own right.”
"The ideal situation for any city is to create a place were people want to live, work, learn, and enjoy their surroundings. That in return will make the Atlantic City arts and education District a must see destination for visitors and tourists."