From left: Joseph R. Jingoli Jr., Jim Allen and Jack Morris discuss plans for the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
By Joshua Burd
The famed exterior of the Trump Taj Mahal will soon be gone from the Atlantic City Boardwalk and replaced by another iconic brand, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
But Jim Allen says that transforming the property is about far more than changing what’s on the outside.
“If we can’t do it right, we’re not going to do it,” said Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International. “And the reality is ‘do it right’ doesn’t mean just some new carpet, it doesn’t mean just some new memorabilia. It means a complete renovation of all of the guest rooms — and not just bed spreads, but literally, taking the bathrooms out and redoing them.
“It means all new furniture. … And we will completely redesign the casino floor to create a true entertainment destination — and not just a gambling destination.”
The plans are all part of the nearly $400 million renovation that Hard Rock and its partners are preparing to kick off at the former Trump casino, which Allen detailed Wednesday at a news conference in the resort town. The highly anticipated project is expected to ramp up by early this summer and deliver what will amount to a brand new offering at the site of the existing casino.
The event, which was swarmed by public officials and media members, came a month after Hard Rock and the Morris and Jingoli families announced their purchase of the shuttered property. The partnership acquired the Taj Mahal from Carl Icahn after the billionaire investor shuttered the struggling casino last fall, paving the way for the group to make its entrance to Atlantic City.
In doing so, the birth of the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will create 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 new permanent jobs by the time it opens in summer 2018. Allen, an Atlantic County native who was working in the city when the Taj Mahal first opened, said “the bones are tremendous” in a building that cost $1.3 billion to build.
It will be latest location for the casino and entertainment giant, which has some 230 properties worldwide. The company is hoping to breathe new life into one of five casinos that have closed in the city since 2014, amid the recession and the rise of neighboring gaming markets.
But Allen, also the CEO of Seminole Gaming, said that Atlantic City was still the second largest casino market in the U.S. and that all of the remaining gaming operators are profitable. Still, he said that “virtually every” Hard Rock location requires some type of partnership, noting that “I assure you this transaction would have not occurred without Jack Morris and Joe Jingoli.”
Morris, CEO of Edgewood Properties, said people have pointed out the risk of trying to turn around an Atlantic City casino. But he said that “together, I knew what we could accomplish and achieve.”
“I was born and raised in this great state, as were my partners, and I am so proud to be here today with the Jingoli family and the Hard Rock team,” Morris said. “They can say what they want about New Jersey, but one thing I can say is that we have loyalty and we don’t forget where we came from. And that’s why we’re back here.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who was also on hand for the announcement, said Hard Rock’s decision means that there is still a business case for the city, adding that the state has taken steps to “make sure that Hard Rock will have a really hospitable place to develop this brand even further.” The state has enacted a host of regulations and legislation in recent years meant to streamline development in Atlantic City’s tourism district and put the city back on sound financial footing.
“One of the things that I know is part of the reason that Hard Rock has made the investment here in Atlantic City is because they believe they can be profitable,” Christie said. “I don’t believe they would come here if they didn’t think they could make money.
“And I would tell you that was not the circumstance in Atlantic City when I first became governor. People were leaving Atlantic City because they were losing money. They were leaving Atlantic City because of the awful conditions that they were met with from a governmental perspective.”
The city has in fact achieved new momentum in recent times. Other casinos have made major investments to improve their outdated properties and add amenities to help draw new visitors. And work is well underway at what’s known as the Atlantic City Gateway project, where AC Devco is building a new headquarters for South Jersey Gas and a new satellite campus for Stockton University.
The project, which is transforming more than 9 acres at the northern end of the Boardwalk, is expected to bring more than 1,000 new students and employees to the city.
It’s also one of the connections to Atlantic City for Joseph R. Jingoli Jr., whose firm, Jingoli Construction, is managing the Gateway project. But Jingoli said his family’s ties to the resort town are much deeper, noting that “I came to Atlantic City over 30 years ago to work on a project and I immediately knew it was a special place.”
He still sees that today and believes the city’s turnaround is coming.
“This is what the bottom looks like,” Jingoli said. “I truly believe Atlantic City is about to hit a new renaissance and not in a few decades, but in a few years. I believe in my core that for any city to succeed, two things are a must: job creation and investment in the community. This project does both.”