I genuinely didn’t think my opinion of Atlantic City could get worse. But they are apparently trying to take the home of an ill senior citizen, son of a murdered holocaust survivor, in order to help a failing casino in some unspecified, Underpants Gnome way.
Now, I grew up on Long Island but didn’t spend summer weekends in the Hamptons. My family went to the Jersey Shore. We used to take the North Jersey Coast Line to Point Pleasant. I have wonderful memories growing up of the beach in New Jersey, although I don’t remember the train as being especially reliable. I loved it when my train broke down on the way back to New York once, I think I was 7 and I was happy waiting for the next train to come by and pick us up since the cafe car on ours had run out of M&Ms.
Take the beach in New Jersey and add legal gambling and you should have an even better destination in Atlantic City.
On its face Atlantic City should have every conceivable destination. Not only is there beach and gambling, but proximity to Manhattan — as a population center and financial center. Who should need Vegas, when you have Vegas-on-the-Beach accessible by car?
There’s this thing in travel, though. We’re not supposed to say that destinations are awful, even when they are. We say things like we “didn’t connect with” someplace we went, as though it was our fault or the destination wasn’t for us even though we all presume that it was – of course – special. We just didn’t get it. We failed.
Sometimes a place can be a cesspool though. Sadly, that’s Atlantic City, although it really shouldn’t be. In Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage portrays a suicidal alcoholic and makes Vegas seem depressing. Vegas ain’t got nothing on Atlantic City.
Unemployment in Atlantic City nears 14%. Most of the hoped-for casino projects over the past decade have failed to materialize.
Wikipedia gives us a list of cancelled casino projects, most of which currently sit as vacant lots.
New Jersey has some of the worst crony capitalism in the United States, and yet (or because of?) Governor Christie sees Atlantic City as a standout for how poorly their regulatory regimes work. United offers new regional jet service to Chicago and Houston… not because there’s value in the route, but because Chris Christie promised big taxpayer dollars to support public transportation to and from United’s Newark hub if they’d do it, which would be a net transfer to the airline no matter how much they lose on the flights.
So it struck me when I saw Heels First write about the plight of a man she met while visiting the city.
It was at dinner I got the chance to chat with their clients — Charlie Birnbaum and his wife.
…Charlie was a brilliant concert pianist earlier in his career and now worked as a piano tuner using the house as his “studio”. I was touched by the painstaking care with which he maintained the house over the years, enjoying it as a living memory of his parents and a respite from Atlantic City’s hectic atmosphere.
And it was heartbreaking to know that it might all be taken away and torn down. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is attempting to use eminent domain to take his property for a yet-to-be-determined “better” use.
This has to be one of the saddest and most frustrating stories I’ve heard in recent times. Searching online for more details (it’s relatively high profile, subject of a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week), it just gets worse.
The property was purchased by the man’s parents in 1969. They had met while hiding in a forest during the Holocaust. His mother continued to live in the home until she was murdered.
He works out of the home, its central location key to his ability to work at all because of his autoimmune condition.
Now the government has come for this home.
They’re trying to take the property through eminent domain to support the Revel casino — which has been behind in property taxes by an 8 figure amount, filed for bankruptcy last year, and has seen its value drop by three-quarters — in unspecified ways. Seriously — they can’t even articulate exactly what they’re going to do with the property once they take it. (There’s a ‘conceptual plan’ to use the property for “restaurants, specialty stores, boutiques and residential housing for rent and purchase”.)
Fortunately this man is being represented by the Institute for Justice, the same organization that successfully stopped Atlantic City from taking the home of a senior citizen in order to give it to Donald Trump for a parking lot.
There are some truly awful places in the world. You’re not supposed to say that about tourist destinations, you’re supposed to marvel in them or at least find what’s special about them. But Atlantic City’s and New Jersey’s political class have done such terrible things to the place that I find it impossible to do that. As they say, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ And here, they seem to be repeating the same sort of cronyism that’s just taken from local residents and given to big businesses without doing a thing to improve the community.