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Atlantic City is concentrating on attracting a new demographic to its offerings

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Stephen Del Monte, the event director of the Challenge Atlantic City Triathlon, is hoping to bring a new crop of customers to the boardwalk.
Stephen Del Monte, the event director of the Challenge Atlantic City Triathlon, is hoping to bring a new crop of customers to the boardwalk. - ()

Atlantic City had a certain type of person in mind when it decided to host the Challenge Atlantic City triathlon: someone who is married, has kids and makes good money.

In other words, the type of person who usually wouldn't consider Atlantic City as a vacation destination.

Sure, the city is thrilled the June 29 event will attract up to 5,000 people, including more than 1,000 athletes from nearly two dozen countries who can swim, bike and run long distances.

But as the city searches for ways to bring people back to the struggling resort town, it also is putting an emphasis on targeting a new group of clientele who may be coming for the first time.

“Triathletes typically earn over $100,000 a year,” event director Stephen Del Monte said. “They're often married with kids and represent a strong youth population.

“These are people who might not have traveled to Atlantic City otherwise, but will go for a triathlon.”

Hosting such an event is what Gov. Chris Christie had in mind when he created the Tourism District in 2011.

Atlantic City is in the process of reorganizing, consolidating and restructuring its critical state agencies and organizations in a focused effort to offer visitors more year-round entertainment, restaurant and shopping options outside of gaming.

Specifically, Atlantic City has been charged with bringing in a variety of different events to attract more diverse out-of-towners.

John Palmieri, who was hired to lead the pack as the executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority — and as of last year, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority — knows it's still a work in progress.

“When the government legislation was approved, everyone understood that positive changes needed to take hold and be measured within a five-year time frame,” Palmieri said. “We're into it now a little over three years.”

Liza Cartmell, president and CEO of the Atlantic City Alliance created in conjunction with the Tourism District in 2011, says that halfway through the race, Atlantic City is coming up strong.

“We have traction now,” Cartmell said, noting that this year would be the year to watch.

“In our first year, we hired people. In our second, we developed a portfolio,” said Cartmell, whose nonprofit organization serves as the city's marketing arm. “Now, we're seeing things happen. We're adding more events. We're upping the ante.”

Such as the Challenge Atlantic City Triathlon.

Del Monte, the founder of DelMoSports and organizer of the separate Atlantic City International Triathlon, the Tri the Wildwoods Triathlon and the Escape the Cape Triathlon, said the town is a perfect fit for the event run by the Roth, Germany-based Challenge Family.

“Atlantic City is the ideal location for an event of this magnitude,” Del Monte said. “Although geographically small, Atlantic City is known around the world. It has everything — billion-dollar casinos, world-class restaurants, a classic boardwalk, free beaches and an airport seven miles away.”

And Del Monte buys into the idea that it's not just about bringing out-of-state and international tourists.

“It's also allowing those in New Jersey to rediscover Atlantic City,” he said.

If nothing else, the event should provide a shot of revenue.

Del Monte said the Tri the Wildwoods Triathlon is smaller in size and only lasts a couple of hours, but brings in more than $500,000 for the city of Wildwood in one weekend.

So what can the Challenge triathlon do for Atlantic City?

“When we talk about putting on an event that people have to come to for a couple of days in advance, you can pretty much bet that's going to be north of seven figures,” Del Monte said.

According to CRDA, the event — which is scheduled to be in Atlantic City for the next five years — is projected to generate more than $5 million in direct spending and more than $20 million in indirect benefit.

Caesar's Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, which is sponsoring the event, believes that partnerships between the gaming industry and high-profile events such as the Challenge triathlon are key to revitalizing Atlantic City's economy.

“We fully believe in DelMoSports and what they are trying to accomplish for our seaside destination,” said Kevin Ortzman, president of Caesar's, Bally's and Showboat Atlantic City. “Steve Del Monte's reputation for producing well-planned sporting events made this an easy partnership to move forward with.”

In addition to welcoming new events such as the Challenge triathlon, Atlantic City continues to foster popular events that have recently proved to be economically successful.

Several events sponsored and planned as part of the “Do AC” campaign by the Atlantic City Alliance will be returning even bigger and better in their second year: the Sand Sculpting World Cup is expected to significantly increase visitation from June 19 through July 6; the Pro Beach Volleyball Invitational, the only East Coast stop on the AVP tour, will return from Sept. 5 to 7; and the Boardwalk Wine Promenade will provide wine tasting along the boardwalk on Sept. 27-28.

In other words, bring on the artists, the foodies, the wine connoisseurs and the sports fans — Atlantic City wants 'em all.

High-profile events are also being redesigned to entice a vast array of tourists to visit mid-week and stay through the weekend — a deal often only taken by bachelor parties and high rollers.

Take for instance the 12th annual Atlantic City Airshow, hosted by the Atlantic City International Airport and produced by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce. By kicking off festivities on Monday, Aug. 11, with the Salute the Armed Forces Parade, the event is designed to keep families in the area throughout the week, so they catch the sneak peek practice day on Tuesday and attend the main event on Wednesday.

According to the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, the 2012 Atlantic City Airshow attracted about 290,000 nonlocal attendees who spent roughly $42.5 million while in the region.

Miss America will also have three nights of preliminary competitions and a parade from Sept. 9 to 14 at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall before the main event Sunday.

After returning to Atlantic City in 2013 for the first time in six years, Miss America had the highest television ratings since 2004 with 10 million viewers.

Even mainstays such as Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, Five O'Clock Somewhere Bar and LandShark Bar and Grill — Atlantic City's first year-round permanent beach bar — have contributed to the city's slow and steady comeback.

From its opening last May through December 2013, the Resorts Casino Hotel saw an increase of 6 percent on the gaming floor, revenue growth of 28 percent and increased restaurant covers by 175,000.

Things are definitely looking up for the city, and the plan is certainly working.

“Let's give A.C. a chance to demonstrate that it can adjust to a new environment and create a more diverse economy,” Palmieri said.

“Look at how long it took to clean up Time Square and for Las Vegas to get business — and just look at those places now,” Cartmell said.

But no one believes that big change is right around the corner more than Del Monte.

“The Challenge Atlantic City triathlon is going to usher in a new era of events in Atlantic City,” he said. “I think the doors are now open for the realm of possibilities.

“If you can put together a 140.6-mile race that starts and ends in Atlantic City, you can do almost anything if you plan ahead — the people of Atlantic City will help you to make it happen.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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