From a new $268 million convention center to six new casino resorts, construction is booming throughout Atlantic City as the city undergoes yet another renaissance. Overall, a reported $7 billion is being spent on development, this city's biggest expansion since gambling was legalized in 1978.

It is estimated that the number of casino hotel rooms will triple from approximately 9,000 to more than 27,000 by the end of 1999. The 13 casinos that are here will hardly be recognizable as they also update and expand.

One of the major catalysts for this boom is the new $268 million Atlantic City Convention Center, which is scheduled to open in May. The center will have 45 meeting rooms totaling 109,100 square feet, and construction is going so well that it might open ahead of schedule. The center will be connected to a 500-room hotel that will be managed by Doubletree Hotels. The city's hotels also want to get in on the convention act, so the pool of casino and non-casino hotel rooms usable by groups will grow to more than 7,300.

The growth in overnight visitors and the anticipation of an improved convention business are pushing casinos to look for new temptations: stores, restaurants, and theaters to keep people in town and spending money. Atlantic City's Boardwalk, the country's oldest, is still lined with saltwater taffy stands, tarot card readers, and kitschy souvenir shops, but today they are joined by a Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. On the Boardwalk, north of the Showboat, an upscale shopping mall is proposed that will feature 80 stores including Polo and Nike, movie theaters, a skating rink, and theme restaurants. Construction is slated to begin by the first of July.

Other new attractions on the Boardwalk include a restored Steel Pier amusement center and the Warner Bros. Studio Store. The Official All-Star Cafe, owned by celebrity athletes, will open at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in March. The Rain Forest Cafe, featuring a jungle setting with animals, trees, caves, and a large aquarium, will open in the spring.

Stephen A. Wynn, chief executive of Mirage Resorts, who has been credited with helping change Las Vegas's image from gambling city to entertainment resort, says he will do the same in Atlantic City. It is reported that he will build a $600 million casino-hotel complex in the marina district, near Harrah's and Trump Castle casinos. His plans call for a complex similar to the fantasy-style Vegas resorts that offer a multitude of entertainment choices.

Atlantic City is also becoming more accessible. The Atlantic City International Airport received a $17.7 million expansion, doubling the size of the airport terminal to 78,000 square feet and installing new all-weather jetways for boarding planes.

A $330 million road infrastructure improvement project is under way that will link the new convention center and the resort's center city area with the marina district via a new tunnel and access road between the Atlantic City Expressway and Route 30.

An $88 million redesign of the primary Atlantic City Expressway entrance into the resort is under way. The project includes an expansive park area featuring a large cascading fountain pool and a 60-foot tower that looks like a lighthouse. Twenty-foot-wide sidewalks with oversized planters, street sculptures, and a small plaza with a reflecting pool will link the new convention center to the Boardwalk.

"Atlantic City is one of the only places in New Jersey that our agents like to go to," says Chuck Riso, sales administration manager, Allstate Insurance, based in Bridgewater, NJ. "Winning the award to be there is the motivating incentive, and Atlantic City is just the frosting on the cake. There is so much to do there. Our group enjoys the shows, gambling, and playing golf."

This year, the new Greater Atlantic City Golf Association has come to the fore in promoting golf. With eight member courses and 26 hotels providing a variety of golf packages, the association is committed to making golf a year-round attraction at the Jersey shore. A toll-free reservation system provides one-stop service. Call (800) GOLF 222.

Hotel News A new convention center hotel, managed by Doubletree Hotels Corporation, is being built next to Atlantic City's new convention center. The Doubletree property will have 500 rooms, a 12,000-square-foot main ballroom, and more than 4,000 square feet of meeting room space and business center areas.

Mirage Resorts has made plans to build a $750 million, 2,000-room Beau Rivage Casino Resort in Atlantic City's marina district.

Circus Circus Enterprises has entered into an agreement with Mirage for land to build a $600 million, 2,000-room casino hotel adjoining the Beau Rivage.

Boyd Gaming Corporation has also entered into an agreement with Mirage to build a $500 million, 1,000-room Stardust-Atlantic City casino resort adjacent to the Beau Rivage.

ITT Corporation, the parent company of Caesars World and the trendy restaurant chain Planet Hollywood Inc., has announced that it will construct a $490 million Boardwalk casino hotel. The 1,000-room property will be located adjacent to the Sands Hotel & Casino. The new Planet Hollywood Casino will have 100,000 square feet of gaming space with 3,000 slot machines and 125 table games.

MGM Grand has proposed a $700 million, 2,500-room casino resort on a 70-acre site adjacent to the Showboat Hotel Casino and adjoining a new $50 million, 335,000-square-foot retail and entertainment complex.

Sun International Hotels has announced plans to build a $700 million, 2,000-room casino resort near the MGM Grand Complex.

After a $100 million expansion and renovation project, TropWorld Casino and Entertainment Resort has become Tropicana Casino and Resort. The property has 1,624 hotel rooms and suites including the new 604-room West Tower, a $5 million lobby, and extensive room and suite renovations in the North and South towers.

Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino has opened a new $35 million, 349-room tower and expanded its casino.

Trump World's Fair Casino opened in May 1996 as Atlantic City's 13th casino-hotel. Previously, it was the 500-room Trump Regency Hotel.

Harrah's Casino Hotel Atlantic City is undergoing an $81 million expansion that will add 416 rooms to its present 760 rooms, slated to be finished in July 1997. This expansion will be followed by an additional 1,500-room addition costing $325 million.

Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino is undergoing a $280 million expansion that will bring the room count to 1,130 rooms when completed in October.

The 1,265-room Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel & Tower is adding a $100 million western-themed casino scheduled for completion next summer.

Merv Griffin's Resorts Casino Hotel plans to add 700 new rooms at a cost of $200 million, for a total of 1,176 rooms by June 1998.

Sands Casino Hotel has plans to add 500 rooms in a $150 million expansion that will increase the number of rooms to 1,034. The hotel also recently completed a new $5 million restaurant, the Epic Buffet.

Trump's Castle Casino Resort is planning a $225 million, 1,500-room tower showcasing a 430-foot yacht with a 35,000-square-foot casino. The addition will bring the resort's total number of rooms to 2,225.

Donald Trump is seeing to it that his Taj Mahal sparkles. He is spending $1 million for an exterior makeover of his flagship property, which will feature a coat of 24-carat gold leaf. He also plans a $195 million, 802-room and 68,000-square-foot casino expansion, which will bring its room total to 2,052.

The Grand, a Bally property, now owned by Hilton Hotels, is adding a 500-room hotel tower adjacent to its current facility. The $68 million project is scheduled to open in July of 1997 and will produce a total of 1,008 rooms when completed.

Tax and Money Matters Atlantic City hotels have a three percent sales tax and nine percent luxury tax on rooms and entertainment.

Getting There Atlantic City International Airport has undergone a $17.7 million expansion doubling the size of the airport terminal to 78,000 square feet.

How's the Weather? Winter temperatures along the coast range from 24 to 49 degrees. The Jersey Shore region is cooler than the rest of the state in the summer. There, temperatures range from 62 to 79 degrees, while central New Jersey's summer temperatures reach the high 80s.