What taking Trump out of Atlantic City will mean for the Boardwalk resort

Carol Comegno

| Cherry Hill Courier-Post

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VIDEO: How to watch the implosion of Trump Plaza

The defunct Trump Plaza Hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City will be imploded on Feb. 17 at 9 a.m. Proceeds from on online auction Feb. 3 for “front row” seats will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City.

Chris LaChall, Cherry Hill Courier-Post

ATLANTIC CITY – Myron Lively strolled past the shuttered Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino reliving a bit of his past.

In the early days of the city’s casino industry, Lively was a waiter and his fiancée was a blackjack dealer at the Plaza.

Today, she’s a city school teacher and he is barber at a shop just a short jaunt down the Boardwalk from the former Trump Plaza, which closed in 2014.

On Feb. 17, the tallest Plaza tower will become a memory, too. The planned implosion of the once-iconic tower at the center of the Boardwalk will mark the end of the Trump era in this shore town.

Trump Plaza was part of the casino empire of now former President Donald Trump, who entered the Atlantic City market in the 1980s as a real estate developer and made millions there despite four bankruptcies.

“I used to frequent the restaurants here at the Trump Plaza and … and when I was young, I used to sneak into the hotel just to look out onto the busy casino floor. It was an exciting place,” Lively said as he paused on the Boardwalk outside the barricaded glass entrance. The towering Trump name was stripped away from the façade a few years ago.

“I met the man twice — once when he came in and got a shoeshine at a barber shop where I was working and another when I attended the Trump Taj Mahal opening. He came up alongside me and asked me if I liked the facility and I remember saying, ‘Yes, it’s extraordinary.’ And it was.”

In the barber’s view, the Trump name in Atlantic City has since diminished and “needs to be put to rest.” More so now, given Trump’s exit from the White House last month, marred by a riot at the Capitol by supporters, a second impeachment and claims of election fraud, he said.

“Trump was unqualified to be president and abused his powers. He was more for power than for people.”

‘We need something for families’

Once a main draw to the city’s casino landscape, the Plaza hosted concerts and highly publicized boxing and wrestling matches that Trump often attended. Its corridors were populated with restaurants and upscale dining, one of which featured dueling pianos while Ivo’s eatery opened out onto the Boardwalk. An escalator carried gamblers up from the Boardwalk level to the more than 2,000 casino slot machines and 80-plus gaming tables on the second floor.

No longer do any of the nine city casinos carry the Trump name. Trump Plaza signs and insignia were removed from the hotel and the vacant parking garage behind it after Trump took office in 2017. The garage is now for sale.

The Trump Plaza, which opened in 1984, closed in 2014 after 30 years of operation and was followed two years later by the sale of the Trump Taj Mahal. Trump also owned the Trump Marina (first called Trump Castle), but now it’s the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino.

The vacant Trump Plaza literally had begun falling apart with some pieces crashing to the ground or onto the Boardwalk, prompting demolition of most of the lower sections of the complex. Debris piles surround the high tower, which also has been gutted in preparation for implosion by the firm of Haines and Kibblehouse, which is also removing two smaller towers by demolition and already has dismantled even lower structures.

No development plans have been submitted for the defunct hotel property, but Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small said he would like to see a multiuse complex that includes entertainment to attract families to the resort city — not just gamblers.

”We’re excited about a rebuild. We look forward to working with (Icahn Enterprises) to get this done,” he said, calling the development of an implosion plan a “tedious process” with delays but always with an emphasis on safety .

Billionaire Carl Icahn is founder and controlling shareholder of New York City-based Icahn Enterprises, which purchased Trump Entertainment Resorts with the Trump Plaza and later also bought the Taj Mahal, now the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“The Trump Plaza coming down marks the end of an era. Trump made a lot of money in Atlantic City, but he was selfish and took advantage of some people and hurt some people,” Small said.

“It’s not often an oceanfront property on the Boardwalk becomes available, but we are not going to make it on casinos alone anymore,” he added. “We need something for families. We don’t have a movie theater, a bowling alley or a roller skating rink.”

There are a number of ways the public can view the implosion of the 34-story hotel tower: live online; by winning an auction for an up-close view with a donation bid to help a local youth group; parking at the idle 141-acre Bader Field or heading to either end of the Boardwalk.

For the closest in-person view of the implosion the public can bid on limited “front row” seats at an implosion party on the newly named Playground Pier across the Boardwalk from Caesars Atlantic City and overlooking the ocean.

In cooperation with the city and for the benefit of its Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, Bodnar’s Auction house is offering 10 front row seat packages for two to witness the implosion live. Viewing will be at a party with the mayor and other city officials behind a 22-foot glass wall at the One Atlantic events venue on the southside of the pier and approximately 1,500 feet from the implosion.

Bids are being accepted as donations to the club and can be submitted live at 1 p.m. Feb. 3 auction or online before 1 p.m. that day.

Part of the package includes dinner for two at a city restaurant and a one-night stay either at the beachfront Ocean Casino Resort or the Hard Rock, each of which have donated five rooms for the winning viewers.

The mayor announced the new fundraising effort to replace an earlier auction plan he hoped would raise up to $1 million for the youth club. That auction would have allowed the highest bidder to push the demolition button and bring down the Trump Plaza’s tallest tower.

However, that proposal met with resistance from Icahn Enterprises, which issued a cease-and-desist order to the auctioneer, citing safety risks and the need for a professional to handle the detonation. Instead, he promised to send the youth club $175,000 from the philanthropic arm of his company to replace the amount the auction had already raised for the youth charity.

Stephanie Koch, CEO of the Boy and Girls Club, said Icahn’s donation has already been received.

“He is a philanthropist at heart and looking to help the next generation in Atlantic City. I just want to say how grateful we are to Mr. Icahn, the mayor and city and the casinos who have supported us.”

She said the money will allow the club to expand operations, possibly create a scholarship fund, finance necessary maintenance at its buildings, install better locking systems on doors and purchase more PPE like masks.

The club has three locations in the city, two licensed child care centers for children 6 to 13 years old and a center for teens aged 13 to 18.

“We were an after-school provider from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. and served a warm dinner and offered tutoring, workforce training and recreation like basketball and football. All of that is still being offered, but now we are open beginning at 8 a.m. so working parents can drop off their children to do their remote schooling at the centers.

Up to 250 children a day are using the center for remote learning and receive breakfast, two snacks, a warm dinner and sometimes lunch, Koch said.

“We very much appreciate this generous donation from Carl Icahn,” Small said. “I also want to make it clear that Carl Icahn and the demolition company have nothing to do with the new auction and the viewing (party) from One Atlantic.”

The mayor also said his office has been receiving calls from “many, many, many people around the world” about the implosion event who have expressed a desire to make a donation to the club and suggested the raffle as a fundraising mechanism.

The mayor personally knows the club’s value. He was enrolled there as a youth and is very familiar with its after-school care, meal, educational and sports programs that have expanded since the coronavirus pandemic.

“If not for the the Boys and Girls Club, I wouldn’t be standing here today ” he said at a news conference last month, recalling how he grow up in a bad neighborhood and was “raised in a house with eight women and no man.”

Want to watch?

Atlantic City Fire Chief Scott Evans, is encouraging the public to watch either online or from the safety of their vehicles at Bader Field, off Exit 2 of the Atlantic City Expressway at the end of the Black Horse Pike.

A webcam with daily views of the Boardwalk will record the implosion live online at atlanticcitywebcam.com

“Safety is first and foremost. People should avoid downtown and the center of the Boardwalk, where the hotel is adjacent to both Boardwalk Hall and Caesars Atlantic City, because there will be road blockages and traffic issues that morning.”

The chief said the entire length of Pacific Avenue directly behind the Boardwalk businesses also will be closed as will a roughly six-block, safety zone downtown to include the center section of the Boardwalk.

“We believe the debris field will be minimal — maybe 300 feet — but our biggest concern is dust. We‘re hoping for an offshore wind to blow the dust toward the ocean,” he explained.

Evans said the demolition contractor has arranged for the gutted tower to fall to the northwest and away from the adjacent Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall at 2301 Boardwalk, the former home of the Miss America pageant. The hall is closed for events because of COVID-19 limitations on crowds.

Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey history and our military veterans. Her book, “The Battleship USS New Jersey: From Birth to Berth” is the definitive history of the battleship. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected]

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