Sign at entrance to Trump Taj Mahal Atlantic City, NJ (photo taken December 19, 2017)
Look at Atlantic City: It’s Like Taking Another Look at Donald Trump
Atlantic City, NJ is a beloved place. It is a small beach town on the Atlantic Ocean, known for years as America’s Favorite Playground. Thanks to my family’s migration there in the 1930s, I had first-hand knowledge of the magic and charm once held by this city. I spent parts of several summers there in the 1970s, and it was quite a treat to take the 100-mile drive south to get away from the hustle and bustle of the New York City metropolitan area. I was not alone. Many people felt the same, and every weekend they doubled Atlantic City’s population. It was a great place to visit.
In the mid-1970s, the idea to recreate Atlantic City started to gain steam. Up to this point, America’s Favorite Playground was primarily dependent on tourism derived from its world-famous beach and boardwalk. The city could attract even more tourists for a different reason: casino gambling. Atlantic City could become the Las Vegas of the east, and casino gambling could supplement, if not someday surpass, family fun on the beach and boardwalk. The plan seemed like a winner, although many residents of the city did not agree.
If you knew Atlantic City, you could easily figure out it did not have the infrastructure to sustain its residents, regular tourists, and casino gamblers. The city itself is only 18 square miles, and navigating the city streets was challenging enough during the regular tourism season. Casino gambling would make the tourism season last 365 days a year. Yet those who knew the city’s urban issues and slow decline saw this as the shot in the arm Atlantic City needed. They were right. They were also wrong. It was widely believed the casinos, and the revenue they brought in would revitalize the city’s economy and “trickle-down” to the neighborhoods and citizens who called Atlantic City home. It would also bring jobs, another boost to the local economy.
In 1978, the first casino opened. Soon others followed, and Atlantic City changed forever. For a while it was Las Vegas east. It was glitz and glam. It was show time. It was the new mecca of the east coast. Atlantic City was hot! However, those who lived there, who saw the continuing decline of the infrastructure of the city saw a different picture. The tourism dollars the casino industry brought never “trickled down” to the residents of Atlantic City. As a result, they reaped minimal benefits of having casinos operate blocks away from their slowly decaying city. In fact, you could almost draw a line between the haves and have nots of Atlantic City (Pacific Avenue).
So what does this have to do with President Trump?
Trump is the epitome of the outsiders who saw Atlantic City as a gold mine. For quite some time he was a major player and the face of Atlantic City and its casino gambling scene. It was an opportunity to get in, and make a lot of money. He took advantage of it. It was also an opportunity to transform a struggling city. He did not take advantage of it.
In fact, he was one of many who sought to push aside those whose lives and property did not fit into his plans to make Atlantic City great again. I know because of my grandmother. She lived in a senior citizen complex in Atlantic City during the rise of the casinos. She talked about friends and other seniors who were afraid their properties would be seized to make room for yet another casino. One such property was (modern-day) Best of Life Park. This was a building that sat adjacent to Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino. There were several attempts to buy the property and other attempts to seize it through eminent domain (or taking property from owners and offering compensation).
A compromise was reached and the residents got to keep their property. It was painted white to match the behemoth casino that stood behind it. However, the fight for the property wasn’t over yet. The Taj Mahal, already known for the amount of fixtures and lights it would have, seemed to get a little extra decoration on its east side. Brighter, more frequently flashing, multicolored light bulbs adorned the east side of the property. Of course, this was directly of Best of Life Park. I wonder if it was a way to “force” the residents to give up their property? By the way, Trump also lost another eminent domain flap with resident in a different area of the city who refused to sell her property.
So over the years Trump opened several casinos: Taj Mahal, Trump’s World Fair (former Playboy casino), Trump Castle (which became Trump Marina), and Trump Plaza. One by one, these majestic Trump properties closed. Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “biggest player in Atlantic City” managed to mismanage five casinos. Now Trump deserves plenty of credit for employing thousands of people while these properties thrived. But he also deserves plenty of blame for un-employing thousands of people when these properties folded. His last stand, the Taj Mahal closed abruptly, leaving many stakeholders and employees left out in the cold.
I know it is all about business. I also know Donald Trump knows more about business than I ever will. Those are facts. However, take into account how Donald Trump summarily dismisses his time in Atlantic City: “Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in May, summing up his 25-year history here. “The money I took out of there was incredible.” Analyze those two statements, and you will find two of the biggest criticisms of our current President.
“Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for me,” Translation: it was all for his benefit.
“The money I took out of there was incredible.” Translation: I made money and got out.
Once again, this is how a lot of business is conducted. People get in to make a profit, then exit when the profits are no longer there. I understand. Yet, in my opinion, the man who should be the leader of the free world should not have anything like this on his resume. He should not be a person who got in, and then got out while the getting was still good. Especially when he left behind so many broken promises, along with a trail of contractors, employees, and businesses who never received the compensation they earned. He never should have left Atlantic City worse than it was before he got there. After all, he was the “biggest player in Atlantic City.”
Recently I laid to rest my mother in the same Atlantic City church where I laid to rest my grandmother. Both of them loved Atlantic City. For me, it is still home away from home. When I drove up and down the streets of the city I was deeply saddened. Many of the areas where Trump casinos stood are barren and desolate, or haunted by what used to be. Trump’s World’s Fair was demolished years ago. The Trump Plaza is an empty shell that blights numerous Atlantic City streets. Trump’s Castle (Marina) is now the Golden Nugget. And the kicker… the lettering on the side of his Taj Mahal was being lowered ON THE SAME DAY (December 19, 2017) I sat in the Best of Life parking lot to take the following photographs.
Removing the “J” from the Trump Taj Mahal
Best of Life Apartments (front) with Trump Taj Mahal
Former entrance to Trump Taj Mahal (with Best of Life Park on left)
Just in case you have not figured it out, this is personal. For the sake of the American people and our great nation, I hope Donald Trump does not do for America what he did for Atlantic City. For me, Atlantic City is like taking another look at Donald Trump. I don’t like the view, but at least “Atlantic City fueled a lot of growth for (him)” and “the money (he) took out of there was incredible.”
Buettner, C. & Bagli, C. (2016). How Donald Trump Bankrupted His Atlantic
City Casinos, but Still Earned Millions. New York Times. Retrieved from