ATLANTIC CITY — When COVID-19 shut down this gambling resort in March 2020, other activity abruptly stopped as well, including events at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

But despite what one might assume about the traditional in-person convention model, gatherings were soon able to resume either virtually or under a hybrid setup thanks in part to the efforts of Meet AC, a public-private partnership formed by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

As just one example, Meet AC President and CEO Larry Sieg said his group worked with the organizers of the Northeast Pool & Spa Show to build a soundstage at a local warehouse to adjust that show's offerings.

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"As a matter of fact, a lot of people said to me, 'Once the pandemic hit, you didn't have anything to do,' and I said no, once the pandemic hit is actually when the real work started," Sieg said.

With gathering limits having been lifted in New Jersey for some time now, Sieg said convention business has been "tremendous" recently, though he clarified that the conventions themselves are often just a vector for increased economic activity for the city.

"We're not built to make revenue, or make a profit," he said. "Convention centers were built as an economic driver to the destination, and that's exactly what we're doing."

To put some hard numbers behind that, Sieg said one particular conference the center hosted last week brought 2,000 attendees, 3,000 room-nights at area hotels, and generated $2.3 million.

The Convention Center is a state-owned building so masks are required indoors, but it is up to individual organizers and events, not the venue itself, as to whether COVID vaccinations or negative tests are necessary.

Sieg said the center is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of attendees as well as employees and staff, so that conventions can continue uninterrupted.

"People, I think, are very eager and hungry for in-person meetings again," he said. "The Atlantic City Convention Center is extremely sensitive when it comes to making sure that it's a safe and clean environment."

Later this month, the Convention Center will host the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference from Oct. 11 through 13, the family-friendly "Dino Stroll" Oct. 23 and 24, and WILD Dance Intensive, also on Oct. 24.

Then in November, the annual, longstanding New Jersey Education Association and League of Municipalities conventions will return.

"We're excited to be back and say that Atlantic City is definitely open for business, and we look forward to welcoming everyone," Sieg said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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