Joseph R. Jingoli Jr. (left), CEO of Joseph Jingoli & Son, and Jack Morris, CEO of Edgewood Properties, are pictured outside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. They are part of the local ownership group that has partnered with Hard Rock International to bring the property to Atlantic City. — Courtesy: Aaron Houston
By Joshua Burd
Even before the property opened its doors, the leaders of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City had preached a message of community investment and engagement.
One year later, the results are hard to ignore. With more than 3,900 employees, Hard Rock is now the second-largest casino employer in Atlantic City. Equally, if not more, important to the property’s ownership group: Nearly 25 percent of those jobs are held by city residents.
“I think if we’re going to make an impact in the community, that is the best place to start,” said Joe Jingoli, CEO of Joseph Jingoli & Son Inc., who is one of Hard Rock’s local partners in the Atlantic City property alongside Edgewood Properties CEO Jack Morris.
“What’s most important is the quality of the jobs and the stability for the people,” Morris added. “I think, if you ask most people, they want to know that they have a job for not just today, but a job for tomorrow. People look for that. And I think that Hard Rock — the partnership, the brand, the property — will bring that stability.”
Morris and Jingoli are counting on it. The longtime real estate and construction executives, who were on hand last week to mark the anniversary of Hard Rock’s debut in Atlantic City, are now seeking to build on a successful first year in business and in the community.
The property, which has revived the former site of the Trump Taj Mahal, generated $320 million in gaming revenue during its first year, ranking second in table game winnings and fourth in overall casino revenue in Atlantic City, according to Hard Rock. The venue also hosted 450,000 concert attendees and accommodated roughly 1.2 million hotel guests during that time.
Those efforts have gone hand in hand with building a robust, locally anchored workforce to support the 4 million-square-foot hotel and casino. For instance, Jingoli noted that Hard Rock is part of Atlantic City’s first-ever workforce development program, which the property has launched in partnership with state Department of Labor & Workforce Development and UNITE HERE Local 54.
The ownership group is also fine-tuning the property through additional investment, Morris said, but “it’s never too early to have the conversation about what’s next.” That could come in the form of additional development or investment in the surrounding area, as the demand for both becomes increasingly clear.
“You’re seeing new housing,” Morris said, pointing to Stockton University’s new satellite campus and new market-rate apartments nearby that were built by Boraie Development.
“We’d like to be involved in new housing when that opportunity lends itself,” he said. “And it’s certainly something that Joe and I talk about on a daily basis, in how we can help people have home ownership.”
The partners are hoping to craft a program to that end in conjunction with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency and Jim Johnson, the governor’s special counsel to Atlantic City. That could involve “some pilot programs and some unique financing opportunities,” Jingoli said, although it was too early to provide exact details.
Both Jingoli and Morris will continue to draw on their deep experience in New Jersey as they help to grow Hard Rock and its impact beyond the property. For his part, Morris believes Atlantic City now has an opportunity to attract everything from small businesses to national operators, thanks to the resort town’s amenities, accessibility, convention business and other offerings.
That’s not to mention the availability of property in the city.
“It’s got so much to offer and I believe there’s a lot we can do here,” Morris said.
That momentum should only grow as other investors see the progress made by those who have planted a flag in Atlantic City.
“Those investments are coming to fruition,” he said. “Usually, when you see people make investments and those are successful, that breeds other people to want to come and follow. And we believe that will happen.”
In the meantime, the Hard Rock team is staying focused on its community-level strategy. The casino and the Morris and Jingoli families are now set to begin an initiative with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s office and city police, in which first-time youth offenders can complete a program, have their record expunged and enter the newly created workforce development training.
The prospects of making a difference seem even brighter than they did a year ago, Jingoli said, now that Hard Rock has validated that there is “a viable, trainable workforce.”
“I think it’s something that we expected and we were very happy that it worked out,” he said. “But there is a long way to go and I think other players in the industry are catching on that social responsibility is truly a currency and it’s good business.”