Although Atlantic City has been a tourist destination since 1870, when it unveiled its first boardwalk, today it is a city in the midst of a transformation. More than $7 billion is being spent as it expands far beyond the gaming tables to become an all-around resort. There is the newly opened, $4.5 million Ocean Life Center with 29,800 gallons of aquarium space in eight tanks; a new convention center; the year-old Sandcastle baseball stadium; a thriving golf association; and a popular new skating rink. As this city reinvents itself, it is actively courting the meetings market. The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority (ACC&VA) has implemented a program, "AC Meetings Express" (www.atlanticcitynj.com) that provides available hotel dates and rates to planners with short-term needs in less than 48 hours.

ATLANTIC CITY hotel news * Tropicana Casino and Resort recently opened a $75 million tower with 628 guest rooms. With the addition, Tropicana has 1,624 rooms, touted as the most of any property in New Jersey. It also has more than 47,000 square feet of banquet, meeting, and exhibit space, with a 20,000-square-foot exhibition center, a ballroom that can accommodate 1,450 people banquet-style, and more than two dozen meeting rooms. The Tropicana Showroom headlines top entertainers and live boxing matches.

* Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino is about to get a new owner. Caesars resorts in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe are being purchased from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide by Park Place Entertainment Corp. for a reported $3 billion. Caesars will join the two other Atlantic City hotel casinos that Park Place owns. Its New Jersey flagship is the 1,263-room Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel, located at the famous intersection of Boardwalk and Park Place. Its other property is the 804-room Atlantic City Hilton. Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, which added a 620-room hotel tower last year, has 1,114 rooms. Caesars' $280 million expansion also added four new meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 75 each, bringing its total meeting space to 33,730 square feet.

* Stephen A. Wynn, chief executive of Mirage Resorts, plans to build a resort in Atlantic City, as well a resort owned by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Co. The two side-by-side resorts will cost more than $750 million. Although both resorts are still in the design phase, it is said that Wynn's Le Jardin Hotel & Casino will have 2,000 rooms and a year-round springtime concept. The Boyd property, The Borgata, will have meeting and convention space, five to seven restaurants, major retail outlets, and approximately 1,200 guest rooms. The two projects are scheduled to break ground at the end of this year and be complete in 2002. * MGM Grand plans to spend at least $700 million to build a casino resort on 35 acres next to the Showboat Casino Hotel. The resort will have 2,000 hotel rooms but it has not been announced when construction will begin.

* Harrah's Casino Hotel has finished a 416-room addition, bringing its total inventory to 1,174 rooms.

important info Atlantic City CVB * (609) 449-7110

* Fax: (609) 345-3685

* www.atlanticcitynj.com

Total Hotel Tax: 12%, plus a $2 per night charge for rooms in casino hotels and a $1 per night charge for rooms in noncasino properties.

Insurance Meeting Planners Say: The pricing in Atlantic City is reasonable, and the service is really good," says Mike Cocca, the Glenmont, N.Y.-based director of conferences for the Professional Insurance Agents of New Jersey. The company has held its annual conference for New Jersey-based independent insurance agents in Atlantic City for the past 20 years. The three-day conference consists of educational sessions and a trade show. One of the reasons it is held in this seaside destination is that Atlantic City easily accommodates the 1,000 attendees and 90 exhibitors.

"The rooms are not overpriced and the hotels are willing to work within your budget, especially midweek. Plus, the convention services people are the most accommodating people you can get," he says.

"I found Atlantic City to be a good motivator. There is so much excitement--the Boardwalk, the shopping, the entertainment, restaurants, casinos. It's just a fun place," says Michael Key, director of sales promotions for Baltimore, Md.-based Monumental Life Insurance Company. The company used Atlantic City for a two-night incentive trip at the end of May for the 100 agents and managers who qualified.

In the past, Key has found that some gaming destinations are more geared to serving gamblers than corporate groups. But he found the Tropicana Casino and Resort, where the group stayed, to be extremely flexible and accommodating. "They were just fantastic . . . and they worked with me to keep the rates within our budget."

Before this incentive trip, the last time Key had brought a group to Atlantic City was about 10 years ago when the company had its leaders conference here. He was impressed by the development that has taken place in that time. "There are so many more attractions, and with the introduction of Steve Wynn to the area, it should get more exciting still," he says.

* Garden Pier juts out into the ocean from the Boardwalk and is home to the Atlantic City Art Center and the Atlantic City Historical Museum and Cultural Center. The museum has a hall that holds up to 150 people, and groups can erect a tent on the pier for larger events. For more information, call the Historical Museum and Cultural Center at (609) 347-5839.

* For a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk and casinos, bring your group to the oldest working winery in the United States, the Renault Winery, less than a half hour outside of the city. The winery dates back to 1864, and the grounds include over 1,400 acres of vineyards, gardens, and streams for spectacular outdoor functions. Indoors, banquet facilities can accommodate up to 300. Construction is slated to begin in the spring of 1999 on a hotel with meeting facilities and a golf course. For more information, call (609) 965-2111.