ASBURY PARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- The Jersey Shore is gearing up for summer, and businesses are hoping for a strong kickoff to the season this Memorial Day weekend.
Shore towns are reporting brisk beach badge sales as the region continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic that has thinned out crowds for the past two summers.
Staffing continues to be an issue for many businesses amid the ongoing labor shortage and supply chain disruptions, combined with historic inflation and rising gas prices.
Still, many are hoping that will lead to more closer-to-home trips to Tri-State area beaches.
On Thursday, New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn LaTourette said the state is ready for a stellar summer season following review of water quality monitoring and visits to both the Jersey Shore and North Jersey lakeshores.
Coastal monitoring flights and preseason sampling confirmed that beaches and water quality are in great shape, LaTourette said during the annual State of the Shore event in Asbury Park.
"Our coastal beaches and lakeshores look great and our water quality is in good shape for swimming and recreating," he said. "Understanding that the summer season is the backbone of New Jersey's tourism economy, our DEP team helps monitor the safety of our beaches so that our residents and visitors can relax and have peace of mind while enjoying a beach or lakeshore getaway. It's shaping up to be a fantastic summer, so let's get outside and have a great time."
Overall, New Jersey's beaches are healthy due to a combination of relatively mild winter storm seasons the past four years and continued efforts by federal, state and local governments to bolster state beaches through beach renourishment projects, according to findings by the Sea Grant Consortium.
Down in South Jersey, Atlantic City is facing a crucial summer as it tries to recover lost business during the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, and casinos and non-gambling resorts are putting millions into renovations and new attractions to compete for visitors.
Casinos and non-gambling companies are making big investments in what they hope will be a corner-turning season with customers more willing than in the previous two years to visit Atlantic City attractions amid the still-not-over pandemic.
"This is a really important summer for Atlantic City," said Phil Juliano, senior vice president of Bally's casino, which opened a 360-degree rotating bar and a part of an indoor-outdoor beer garden on Thursday. The projects are part of $100 million the company is investing in the property.
He said Atlantic City was showing signs of growth in early 2020, only to have those hopes dashed by the coronavirus pandemic which closed the casinos for 3 1/2 months in March, and led to operating restrictions for more than a year afterward.
"This is an interesting summer: You have inflation, you still have COVID and high gas prices, but you also have pent-up demand," Juliano said. "People are coming out again, and we need that."
Also on Thursday, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small announced the receipt of a $6 million federal grant to rebuild a section of the Boardwalk between Florida and Missouri avenues that is over 100 years old. Work will begin in the fall and be completed next summer.
The Atlantic City casino industry is vital to southern New Jersey's economy, said Christina Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey.
"As we continue to rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry's growth and prosperity is more important than ever before," she said.
Atlantic City enters the summer amid some encouraging signs - and some concerning weaknesses. The casinos' collective revenue and profitability are up this year, but not all the casinos have surpassed the levels they were operating at in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
On Saturday, the Showboat hotel, the former casino, will open its $1.5 million indoor go-kart track, even as it works to build a $100 million year-round indoor water park, private financing for which was secured on Thursday, owner Bart Blatstein said.
He said his go-kart course is "another non-gambling amenity in a market where only 8% of visitors are families. It's a way to bring in a new market."
Resorts is working on a multi-million dollar renovation of its rooftop outdoor pool, including a retractable roof and party areas that should be ready in late June. On Friday, Resorts will open Coral Lounge, a new under-the-sea-themed pop-up bar.
The Ocean Casino Resort is in the midst of $85 million worth of projects, including the completion of over 460 hotel rooms and suites; a new sportsbook and lounge, and multiple new food and beverage outlets. It also will offer bicycle rentals outside its main entrance this summer.
Hard Rock will spend $20 million this year on renovations including adding 70 slot machines and seven more table games; renovating its convention space, beach bar and employee areas.
Caesars casino will start work this year on a new theater and resident show due to open in the first quarter of 2023. The project will incorporate the facade of the former Warner Theatre from 1929, which is currently part of the casino's exterior facing the Boardwalk.
Also planned for Caesars in 2022 is a new restaurant, opened by a hospitality company involving actor Robert De Niro that also will renovate hotel rooms there. Caesars Entertainment is partnering with Nobu Hospitality for a project to be called Nobu Hotel Atlantic City.
Tropicana is adding eight new food and beverage outlets this year and Harrah's will open three casual dining outlets.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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