January 19, 2022

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Watch the Trump Era in Atlantic City End With 3,000 Sticks of Dynamite – The New York Times

6 min read

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — It was not the biggest or the best implosion ever.

An auction for the right to detonate the dynamite to begin the implosion of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., fizzled.

Front-row seats to view Wednesday morning’s spectacle were sold on the cheap. Onlookers in cars hoping to witness the symbolic finale of the former president’s casino empire in the seaside resort city were charged $10 and herded into a lot most recently used as a pandemic-era food distribution site.

The implosion of what was once the premier gaming destination in Atlantic City came less than a month after its best-known former owner, Donald J. Trump, left the White House after losing re-election and became the first president in history to be impeached twice. He was acquitted on Saturday of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

The tower came down shortly after 9 a.m. amid a huge cloud of dust and an eruption of cheers.

“It’s an end of a not-so-great era,” said Jennifer Owen, 50, who bid $575 to win a front-row seat at a V.I.P. breakfast in an oceanfront pavilion with a direct view of the implosion.

Ms. Owen, who lived in Atlantic City for decades before moving two years ago to Rochester, N.Y., said she was not a fan of Mr. Trump and was eager to say goodbye to the skyscraper that once bore his name.

“It’s symbolic for sure,” she said. “Him. Everything ending.”

Roy M. Foster, president of the Atlantic and Cape May Counties Central Labor Council, said the event was bittersweet.

“It’s a good day. It’s a bad day,” he said. “A lot of us worked on that building.”

Trump Plaza was the first of three casinos Mr. Trump owned before his gambling businesses in Atlantic City cratered and went bankrupt for good, leaving a trail of unpaid contractors and suppliers — and a bad taste for the Trump brand in this struggling city of 38,000.

To detractors, including the Democratic mayor, Marty Small, Wednesday’s demolition was the vivid embodiment of a long-awaited end.

“This is not about President Trump, because, quite frankly, the people of the city of Atlantic City knew how the presidency was going to play out on a national stage because we’re one of the cities that knew him best,” Mr. Small said after the implosion.

As he campaigned for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, Mr. Trump frequently boasted about how he outwitted Wall Street lenders and rode the value of his name to riches in Atlantic City.

“The money I took out of there was incredible,” he once told an interviewer.

In fact, he used little of his own money, a New York Times investigation found, and he shifted personal debts to the casinos, leaving the burden of his failures on investors and others who had gambled on his success.

“His tenure here ended horribly,” Mr. Small said in an interview last month.

First opened in 1984, Trump Plaza became Atlantic City’s 10th casino and in its early days offered the promise of high rollers and the allure of marquee events, including heavyweight prize fights where ringside seats fetched $1,500 and attracted celebrities. His casinos also generated tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

But after a series of bankruptcy filings, Mr. Trump cut ties with Trump Plaza in 2009, even though his name briefly continued to adorn the building. It closed for good in 2014 and the billionaire investor Carl C. Icahn acquired it out of bankruptcy in 2016.

The ostentatious Trump Taj Mahal closed in 2016 and is now the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The Trump Marina Hotel Casino closed a decade ago and is now the Golden Nugget.

Michael Raimer, who worked as a cook in Trump Plaza for 20 years, was nostalgic as he waited to watch the building come down.

“It’s a place where a lot of families got together,” said Mr. Raimer, 60, who lives in nearby Galloway, N.J. “It was an establishment that really took care of a lot of Atlantic City people. It gave us a lot of jobs.”

The Trump Plaza has stood for years as one of the city’s most visible eyesores, occupying prime land near the oceanfront boardwalk. Chunks of falling debris and metal contributed to its designation as an “imminent hazard,” setting the stage for Wednesday’s demolition.

Mr. Icahn’s plans for the property are unclear. Mr. Small has said that he hoped Mr. Icahn might develop the property as a family-friendly destination hub to complement a new indoor water park that is planned for the boardwalk.

“This is the best property in town,” Mr. Small said. “You don’t get this opportunity often.”

The city has nine remaining casinos, all of which were closed for months by the state’s coronavirus-related lockdown, thrusting 27,000 employees out of work overnight. Most casinos reopened Fourth of July weekend, but occupancy limits on the gambling floors, as well as inside restaurants and bars, remain capped at 35 percent, crimping nightlife in a city that thrives on it.

“We’ve got to diversify our offerings. We can’t be dependent on casino gambling any more,” Mr. Small said.

“We’re always going to be a casino town — we love the jobs and the opportunities that they provide,” he added. “But it’s time to take the shift to make us different than every other town, near and far, that now has casinos.”

The Trump Plaza tower had been largely gutted, with much of the concrete removed. Demolition crews were at the site most of last week placing an estimated 3,000 pieces of dynamite that used the reinforced-concrete structure’s own weight to bring its 34 stories cascading gracefully to the ground.

The implosion lasted only seconds. Because the building had no basement, and no cavity to absorb the debris, the pile of remaining rubble was an estimated 70 to 80 feet high. The goal is to clear the debris by summertime, city officials said.

As the clock ticked several minutes past 9 a.m., groups of eager onlookers waited, cellphones aloft.

“Looks like the Plaza is getting acquitted, too,” George Tibbitt, president of the Atlantic City Council, quipped. Soon came a series of loud booms that preceded the main event. After the building fell, an enormous cloud of dust filled the sky, chasing people who had been watching near the ocean off the beach.

Mr. Small said the brief delay was related to making sure a drone that was spotted near Caesars casino was cleared out of a no-fly area surrounding the demolition site.

The demolition was done by a Maryland company, Controlled Demolition Inc., which has imploded 28 buildings in Las Vegas and other structures in Atlantic City.

To some, the spectacle was an opportunity to generate business in a city still struggling to regain its footing in the midst of the pandemic.

The mayor, in a bid to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City, had attempted to auction off the right to push a button to implode the building, but Mr. Icahn, who had supported Mr. Trump as president, scuttled that plan, citing safety concerns. Instead, Mr. Icahn donated the value of the highest bid, $175,000, to the club.

An alternative auction for 10 hotel packages, including V.I.P. viewing access, generated about $6,000 in bids, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino also donated $10,000 to the club, which has extended its hours and services to provide a safe place for children to attend school virtually.

Caesars was offering a $299 stay-and-view room package Tuesday night, complete with champagne and late checkout.

Edward Zarnock, of Edison, N.J., said he could not recall how much he bid to be among the auction winners with prime seats in a ballroom of One Atlantic, an event space that juts out over the ocean and offered an unobstructed view of the implosion.

“I’ve just always wanted to see a building come down,” he said. “I’ve never seen one in person.”

Now he has.

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