August 3, 2018

CRDA Considers “Laptop Lounges” For Convention Center, Should It Think Bigger?

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The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is considering building laptop lounges on the upper floors of the Atlantic City Convention Center. The project – which currently exists as a request-for-proposals – would allow businesspersons to plug in and work from the sidelines of conferences. But could it be the opportunity to do something more?

“This project is a renovation to existing telephone rooms and converting them to modern day electronic device lounges,” reads the RFP. SOSH Architects’ designs for the project show the rooms would be rebuilt with folding glass-door partitions so that they could be closed off and private. It sounds a lot like the co-working space operated by companies such as WeWork, where small businesses and the self-employed can lease desk space or even reserve small offices and meeting rooms.

The Atlantic County economic development strategy and action plan – commissioned from economists two years ago – includes a goal of launching co-working space. A CRDA official said the Authority has not considered the possibility of the area being used for co-working space at this time, noting that the plans have not yet been approved by the board.

The Convention Center’s cafe area.

Right now, the revenue the Convention Center brings in is just a little over half the price of keeping the doors open. The building itself is depreciating at a rapid clip. And that’s without counting the millions spent servicing the debt that came with building the property in the first place. Meanwhile, CRDA saw its budget slashed to $65.5 million this year, from $73.6 million last year.

The Convention Center could work as office space for some businesses. Gaming server-provider Continent 8 is set to start building a data center there later this fall. The Convention Center is already easy to access by rail and road. There’s parking. There are 45 existing meeting rooms on the two upper floors of the center. There’s UPS and a cafe on the ground floor.

But it’s also geared up to visitors, rather than Atlantic City residents. It’s not that easy to reach on foot or by bike. Even though Comcast runs the building, it costs almost $13 a day for anything more than “basic browsing” on the internet. And, personally, the office space is not that pleasant: There are no windows in the conference rooms and the decor is dated.

The county’s economic plan includes the development of co-working space because it can be a low-cost way of lowering businesses’ start-up costs and helping entrepreneurs to network. County officials said recently they have been focused on building the local aviation industry but plan to do more for small businesses in the near future.

A site visit for the laptop lounge project is set for August 9.

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