By Dave Warner
ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey (Reuters) - Atlantic City, the once-thriving gambling capital of the east coast recently fallen on hard times, will get a facelift from a plan approved by a special authority including an overhaul of its famed boardwalk and news rides on the pier.
The Atlantic City market is the second-largest gambling center in the United States after Las Vegas but faces stiff competition from casinos in Pennsylvania, New York and New England.
The revitalization plan calls for a major overhaul of the boardwalk, including creation of an entertainment zone, new lighting, pavilions and art.
Some of the city's major thoroughfares will get a new look such as along Atlantic Avenue, where an arts and boutique district is planned, and a new residential area along the water near the South Inlet.
Owners of the iconic Steel Pier are planning $100 million in improvements such as new amusement rides installed this year, according to authority chairman James Kehoe. He said the owners also plan to bring back the diving horse attraction, and re-create the once-famous Marine Ballroom.
Authority executive director John F. Palmieri estimated that the authority will get about $30 to $40 million a year in gambling revenues to pay for the public projects, and hopes to attract three to four times that amount in private investments.
"Our mission is to create a city where there is no off season," said David Sheldon, a planner from The Jerde Partnership, who worked on the plan's outline. "It is about a city that pulls you back in and makes you want to return again and again."
The plan was approved unanimously by the board of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which also gave preliminary approval to the Steel Pier project.
The state of New Jersey seized control of Atlantic City's gaming district, and Governor Chris Christie has made the city's revitalization a legislative priority.
Last year, Christie authorized $260 million of debt for infrastructure development to help pay for improvements in the area adjacent to the Revel Entertainment Group casino resort.
In a statement following the authority's vote, Christie called the plan a road map to a comeback for Atlantic City.
"We are finally making meaningful progress to turn around the city, grow the economy and create sustainable jobs," Christie said.
But some residents expressed concern that it would not do enough.
"Crime is a big issue here," said restaurant owner Nick Dounoulis. He said visitors come to his restaurant and ask, "Where are the police?"
Atlantic City has a higher crime rate than the U.S. average, according to City-Data.com, which calculates an index of crime in U.S. cities.