Atlantic City got some help Tuesday in its efforts to recover from a year of casino closings and job losses as the federal government approved $29 million in worker retraining aid, and the city launched an effort to grab a bigger share of the sporting events trade.
The U.S. Labor Department announced a National Emergency Grant to help those affected by the closure of four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos last year. The department is making $13 million available right away, with the rest to be released as the state demonstrates continued need for retraining money.
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The Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza shut down in 2014, leaving 8,000 workers without jobs.
"The Atlantic City economy was dealt a staggering blow with the closure of these casinos," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez. "For the thousands of workers who lost their jobs as a result, we are committed to providing the resources, support and training they need to get back on their feet."
The grant is part of the Labor department's discretionary funds. Past grants given to New Jersey include $15.5 million in 2013 following Superstorm Sandy, and $2.5 million in 2010 to retrain 960 workers laid off from pharmaceutical companies in northern New Jersey.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker called Tuesday's grant, "another important step towards Atlantic City's comeback."
Also on Tuesday, the resort formed the Atlantic City Sports Commission, whose mission will be to attract sporting events of all sizes to the seaside resort. It is part of Meet AC, a group promoting Atlantic City as a meeting and convention destination, one of the resort's primary needs to fill rooms at its casino hotels on less-occupied weekdays.
"Sports is big business, and through the formation of the Atlantic City Sports Commission we are positioning Atlantic City to attract additional sporting events to our city year-round," said Jim Wood, Meet AC's CEO.
He said that according to the most recent economic impact study conducted by the National Association of Sports Commissions, amateur sporting events in the U.S. generate nearly $8 billion a year.
Atlantic City already hosts events like high school state wrestling finals, a marathon and various events at Boardwalk Hall. It formerly hosted an independent minor league baseball team, which stopped playing in 2009.
The city and state are trying to increase Atlantic City's non-gambling attractions to make it less reliant on gambling revenue, which has declined in each of the last eight years.
John Palmieri, the authority's executive director, said the sports commission's work will complement that of a private company that operates Boardwalk Hall to attract sporting events. The arena has held events including minor league hockey games, rodeos and indoor auto racing.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC