ATLANTIC CITY — For city officials, Friday marked a major step in the city’s efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Marty Small Sr., with members of the Atlantic City Convention Center and Meet AC, officially reopened the center to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead of Sunday’s ImportExpo. The convention will be the first in the city since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor expressed confidence in the city’s ability to bounce back because it’s already shown that throughout the last decade, he said.
“They counted us out in 2012 with (Superstorm) Sandy, said that we’ll never be the same,” Small said to a crowd of a few dozen in the center’s atrium, flanked by a pair of sports cars. “(In) 2014, five casinos closed, and they counted us out. They counted the government out in 2016 when the State of New Jersey came and took over. So what’s new and what’s next? They counted us out during the pandemic, but we’re here today.”
Because of the pandemic, the convention center only hosted 21 events in 2020 compared to 87 in 2019. In April, a number of county and local officials gathered at Kennedy Plaza urging the governor to allow industry operations to resume. County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick said at the time that conventions and trade shows bring in $2 billion for the city annually.
After opening remarks from Small, Meet AC President Larry Sieg and Convention Center General Manager Jim McDonald, the crowd was treated to a performance from the Police Athletic League’s Hot Topic Dance Academy. Last month, the troupe won a national competition in Florida.
A city police officer then presented the team’s coach, Whitney Brown, with a $500 check to help fund a banquet in celebration of the championship.
As Small was handed oversized scissors to cut the ribbon after the performance, he called on the dance team to initiate a countdown. Once they said, “one,” the mayor cut the ribbon to applause from the crowd.
“We are thrilled to be able to able to finally welcome back longtime clients and new clients, not only to the convention center, but to the destination,” Sieg said. “From this day on, we can now move forward again.”
Sunday’s convention will be the eighth time ImportExpo has come to the city. Both Small and McDonald said the center had no trouble booking the summer with events.
“I was told by the convention center staff that only one organization didn’t come back,” Small said in reference to past conventions. “That shows that people are bullish on Atlantic City, and as we continue to open in all phases, I’m just excited about what the future holds.”
ImportExpo will also return to the city for another auto show in November. Michael Reynolds, the senior sales manager for Spectra Experiences, said talks between the convention center and ImportExpo continued throughout the pandemic. The parties waited for opportunities to bring the show back, but previous dates were canceled twice as the state had not fully reopened yet.
Reynolds, who’s help coordinate the event since its first visit to the city, was also enthusiastic about the return.
“Our business is to bring people together,” he said. “This pandemic didn’t allow us to bring people together, so we’re so excited for this event. This will be the eighth year this show’s been coming to Atlantic City, and it’s grown substantially every year.”
Though the convention center’s online calendar includes events through December, things weren’t set in stone until Gov. Phil Murphy fully reopened the state a few weeks ago. Next Wednesday and Thursday will see the arrival of the Action Expo, and August will include Police Security Expo and 2021 Impressions Expo. The last two are expected to draw at least 7,000 people.
More events should be added in the near future, McDonald said.
“We’re feverishly on the phone right now,” he said, “talking to promoters, et cetera, and reintroducing them to the building.”
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