For the second time this year, Atlantic City has swiped an event from Asbury Park.
Sand Blast Weekend, which organizers say is the largest mid-Atlantic summer gay and lesbian beach party, will be held from July 18 to 20 in Atlantic City. For its first 12 years of its existence, Sand Blast was held in Asbury Park. The Garden State Film Festival, which was held in April at various Atlantic City venues, came to the resort after 11 years in and around the Monmouth County town.
In the case of Sand Blast, the event outgrew its original home. It wasn’t able to strike a deal with one of the three main hotels that it used, said Brad Hurtado, Sand Blast’s executive producer.
“We were having difficulties in Asbury Park as we were putting the event together this year,” said Hurtado, who lives in Asbury Park. “My marketing director was aware of the Atlantic City Alliance’s goals, and I believe they were speaking to each other. ... They (the alliance) were very eager to talk to us.”
The plan to move Sand Blast from Asbury to Atlantic City started two months ago, Hurtado said.
Held during the third weekend in July, Sand Blast will consist of a kickoff party July 18 to welcome guests at the Chelsea Hotel, which will be one of the host hotels. A seven-hour Sand Blast beach party will be held July 19 on a dance floor alongside the ocean at the Bungalow Beach Bar at California Avenue. There will be a volleyball tournament on the beach and a live performance in The Claridge Hotel’s theater July 19, followed by an all-night dance party. On July 20, there will be a pool party at The Pool at Harrah’s Resort, followed by a closing party in the evening at Dusk Nightclub at Caesars Atlantic City.
Caesars Entertainment Corp., parent company of Harrah’s, Bally’s, Caesars and Showboat, is the casino company with the biggest involvement with Sand Blast. From 2008 to 2012, Caesars Entertainment hosted the gay-friendly “Out in AC” weekend of partying.
“The reason we are working with certain casinos and hotels is because those casinos and hotels had venues that would work,” Hurtado said. “It was really which venue would work as a pool. Which venue would work as a nightclub? Which venue would work as a meet-and-greet, and which venue would work as a beach party? Certain places had certain assets that they were able to offer us.”
Sand Blast has been a regional event, attracting LGBT visitors from New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. But it has been slowly expanding and attracting people from Washington and Boston, Hurtado said. It was reported that last year’s event attracted 4,000 people.
“Our guests tend to like to come for the entire weekend for these types of events. They are known as circuit events, and the guests like to come on a Friday and stay until Sunday or Monday and go from one event to the next and enjoy the experience,” said Hurtado, who added the reception he received to bringing his event to Atlantic City was amazingly positive and welcoming. “Within a week, I was in a meeting with everybody from the city team.”
Jeff Guaracino, chief communications and strategy officer for the alliance, received the call that Sand Blast had outgrown Asbury Park. Guaracino introduced Sand Blast officials to the people and organizations that eventually decided to sign on to the event.
“I think it’s terrific on multiple levels. First, the gay and lesbian traveler is a very loyal traveler. There has been a long history in Atlantic City, and they are already coming, so this is another reason,” Guaracino said. When in Asbury Park, Sand Blast organizers would also organize a real estate tour of the city, Guaracino said. “I think that would be terrific for Atlantic City. These are groups of people from Boston, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, who might be looking for a great summer home, and Atlantic City would be a nice place to move.”
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