The Casino Redevelopment Authority in New Jersey has approved a master plan for a tourism district for Atlantic City. The ambitious, long-range blueprint is part of the city's effort to re-brand itself as a family destination.

 

The re-branding will bring back some long-lost attractions.

One of the most popular acts for over 50 years at Steel Pier was the diving horse. A horse would trot up a long flight of wooden steps to the top of a 40-foot tower, where a young lady in a bathing suit was waiting. The lady would mount the horse as it plummeted into a pool of water below.

It was something you could only see in Atlantic City, until 1978 when the attraction was shut down. Animal-rights activist protested is as cruel.

The Casino Re-Development Authority's has pledged $6 million toward a $20 million renovation of Steel Pier. The owners of the pier have promised to bring back the diving horses. The Humane Society already disapproves.

The diving horse and the whole Steel Pier business model are forms of entertainment from a bygone era.

"You would go from the front, which was these animal gags, like boxing cats," said Temple University historian Bryant Simon. "To the back was a beautiful Marine Ballroom — every big band in the world played there at at some point.

"In between were a movie theater, carnival attractions. And then the diving horse. That kind of all-in-one entertainment doesn't exist anymore. I'm not sure that can be revived," said Simon.

The renovation of Steel Pier is not directly part of the Tourism District plan, but the two efforts share a similar goal: to turn Atlantic City into a vacation destination, not just a gambling one.

"We are also renovated Garden Pier for family entertainment, including an arts and history center," said CRDA deputy director Susan Ney Thompson. "We are working with two casino investors on renovations to facades of resorts, and the Trump Taj Mahal."

The long-range goals of the Tourism District also include an arts district, bookended by Boardwalk Hall on the shoreline and Dante Hall a few blocks west on Mississippi Avenue. What exactly teh arts district will be is still unclear.

"There's no grass-roots movment for this," said Bill Horin, founder of ArtC, a South Jersey arts blog. "This is somethign that was going to be put into place, and hopefully the artists would show up to support it. I think they need to hear more from the artists in the area and the arts community."

The arts district is a mid-range plan, expected to begin manifesting in about 3 years.