By Michael J. Fensom
For Inside Jersey
Evan Sanchez is an entrepreneur, who, while studying at Columbia University, became a founding member of Olo, an online and mobile ordering platform for restaurant chains. Sanchez has applied that startup mentality to his latest project: the long-term revitalization of his hometown, Atlantic City. Since moving back in 2015, Sanchez has co-founded ThisIsAC, a nonprofit grassroots community movement aimed at telling the stories of people in the city. He also works with the Atlantic City Arts Foundation and co-founded Authentic City Partners, an Organization that develops revitalization projects...
1 | How does your perception of Atlantic City differ from those of other people?
When I came back, I didn't have an understanding of the city outside of a simple narrative: That it's poor, it's struggling, it's a casino city. I started listening and found, at the neighborhood level, there is an incredible amount of resiliency, a spirit that we won't be defeated. I see Atlantic City as a city with casinos, but not a casino city. Focusing on the city is the key -- not focusing on just one industry. You hear people talk about the diversification of the economy, but it's also about diversifying the narrative, and we can do that by recognizing what we have and using that as a starting point. I think, with the diversity of the city, there is a real opportunity to highlight and celebrate it, and make it a focal point of our story.
2 | Have you brought a startup mentality to revitalizing the city?
I try to bring a startup mentality to everything I do. One of those tools is bright spot analysis: to look at what's working and start to build from that. You think about what are your natural assets and you start there as a company. And then find your differentiator. The other critical piece is to think big, but start small. Atlantic City has always been looking for silver bullets. But it's easy to identify problems. We need to be solutions-oriented. The challenges of Atlantic City are the challenges of all cities. So, if we learn here, we can then scale it out. I think Atlantic City can be a place-based model.
3 | The city is nearly $400 million in debt, and there is also the perception that it's decaying. Does one need solving before the other can change?
We will be able to resolve our financial problems by letting a thousand flowers bloom. By that, I mean letting our small businesses flourish, redeveloping our beach blocks -- taking our prime assets and leveraging them. We've seen that happen in Brooklyn and we're trying to replicate that here. But it's not unique to a city or time -- this is just how cities work. If we let Atlantic City be the animal it is, we can solve our economic problems. Tennessee Avenue is a microcosm. We're going to build one beach block and then we're going to recruit other developers to join the effort and build collaboratively.
4 | From the outside, the gaming industry appears as the mouthpiece and ear of the city. So, where does it fit into the change narrative?
The casinos are recognizing the value of a thriving city for their businesses. That's an important piece of the puzzle. There is no doubt that by far casinos are the biggest industry in Atlantic City, and that's not going to change for a long time, if ever. But the relationship between the community and casinos can change and needs to change. The community now is basically saying, let's focus on our well-being and we'll see a benefit for the casinos. And I think that's very true. The perception of Atlantic City right now is not helping casinos. What you're hearing now about community and collaboration is something we should be doing on all levels, from big to small. You see it in New York every day. There is no reason both can't thrive together. But it is a new paradigm for us in this city.
5 | What does the Atlantic City of the future look like?
I think the city will be fuller. There will be a lot more people living here -- and not as a second home. People are really going to want to be here and spend time in the city. We will see that as we build more and more amenities. We'll see more businesses coming in, as well. Atlantic City has an incredible ability to recruit people once we put this all together. Who doesn't want to wake up and go for a bike ride on the Boardwalk or go surfing, come back to a home office or startup, go grab dinner at an amazing Vietnamese restaurant and then grab a drink at a speakeasy? And the cost of living is so good that people can really take advantage of it. So, you'll see a really cool mosaic of a city where you have all of these people from around the world living here and making it work, and creating this amazing stew that is authentically Atlantic City and authentically American.
The original article can be found on NJ.com.