Cash-Strapped Atlantic City Auctions Off Land

Facing a deadline to get its finances in order by before the end of the year or face a state takeover, Atlantic City is doing the budgetary equivalent of checking the sofa cushions for spare change.

On Thursday, it will sell off surplus land. But it's also looking at small measures such as raising the fines for parking meter violations and being under the Boardwalk without authorization. Click here to see what commercial and residential properties are available.

New Jersey officials have given the cash-strapped city five months to tame its finances before the state can take them over.

"We're on the clock," said City Council President Marty Small. "It's up to us to explore every possible measure to get that done. Nothing is too big or too small; that's the mindset you have to have right now."

Earlier this year the city nearly ran out of cash, the culmination of years of worsening finances brought on by the continuing contraction of its casino industry, which has seen its revenue fall from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.56 billion last year. Four of the city's 12 casinos shut down in 2014.

But critics also say Atlantic City has spent itself into a hole with budgets that were supportable while casino tax dollars were rolling in, but are not feasible now. That has put the city on a scavenger hunt for cash.

Big-ticket items include the proposed sale of the former Bader Field airport and a 10.5-acre parcel on Route 30 that's being promoted as a possible technology or research park. Bids on those two large parcels are due in mid-July, and no minimum bids have been set, officials said.

On Thursday, 121 parcels of city-owned land, mostly acquired due to unpaid taxes, will be auctioned off.

"It's a great time to be investing in Atlantic City right now," said Mayor Don Guardian. "The price is right."

The land is being offered for 10 percent of its assessed value; if all the parcels sell at that ratio, the city could realize $1 million from the auction. Half the lots are buildable, while others that are not big enough to build upon should be attractive to adjacent homeowners looking to expand, said Elizabeth Terenik, the city's planning and development director.

Atlantic City recently sold the Garden Pier and a 4-acre beachfront lot to Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein for a total of $5.3 million. He rebranded the former Pier Shops complex into The Playground last year, and is reopening the former Showboat casino as a non-gambling hotel next month.

The city also recently reached a deal with a private firm to replace its stock of broken or worn-out parking meters with new ones, with the city getting 55 percent of the revenue they generate.

And at the low end of the spectrum, the City Council has given preliminary approval to revenue-generating measures including adding parking meters to nine streets where there are none now; raising the fine for overtime meter parking violations from $36 to $51; doubling the fee to apply for a city public defender in municipal court from $100 to $200; and, with apologies to The Drifters, imposing a $139 fine for being under the Boardwalk without permission.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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