Hard Rock owners ready for new era in Atlantic City with hotel plans
ATLANTIC CITY — Donald Trump, domes and minarets are out.
Rock 'n' roll and guitars — lots of guitars — are in as the Hard Rock chain re-does Atlantic City's former Trump Taj Mahal casino.
The company owned by Florida's Seminole Indian tribe on Wednesday unveiled its $375 million plan for the shuttered casino resort, which it bought last month from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, and plans to reopen by summer 2018.
It will draw on the world's largest collection of music memorabilia to help brand the new resort, with a decided New Jersey slant.
Few things are more New Jersey than the mob and Bruce Springsteen, and Hard Rock rolled out someone who embodies both to help reintroduce the resort. Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen's E Street band and "Sopranos" TV fame, said he'll periodically broadcast his radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage" from there, and will help organize beach concerts.
"It's a timeless place where you can come, and for the younger generations that feel like they missed the rock 'n' roll era when it first came along, we make sure that they get the experience," said Van Zandt, who plays guitar with Springsteen and portrayed mobster Silvio Dante on the HBO mob series. "The spirit of rock 'n' roll is still alive; you didn't miss it."
Now-President Donald Trump built the Taj Mahal in 1990, but lost control of it and two other Atlantic City casinos in a series of bankruptcies that happened before Icahn scooped it up last year from yet another bankruptcy. Icahn shut the casino in October after a crippling strike that sought to restore workers' health insurance and pension benefits that were eliminated in bankruptcy court.
Its literally over-the-top decor of Indian-inspired domes and minarets soon will be a thing of the past; the purple carpet that Trump loved was ripped out long ago.
"There will not be one — and underscore the word 'one' — piece of design, architecture, minaret or anything left over from the Taj Mahal," Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen said. "We are removing it all."
It its place will be items from the world's largest music memorabilia collection. Hotel guests will even be lent Fender electric guitars to play in their rooms.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration seized Atlantic City's assets and major decision-making power last November, said Hard Rock's investment in Atlantic City shows that the state's tough love is working in the cash-strapped city.
"Hard Rock's willingness to come in and invest in Atlantic City shows you that they appreciate the hard things that have been done to restructure the city and make it a place where investing makes sense," Christie said.
Since the takeover, Christie's administration has negotiated a tax settlement with the Borgata casino that will save the city nearly $100 million. It also is seeking drastic cuts to the police and fire departments.
Others feel that recent encouraging developments such as the Hard Rock purchase, the planned reopening of the former Atlantic Club casino as a water park, and the rebirth of the former Showboat casino as a non-gambling hotel, are due more to market forces in a less competitive environment than to anything Christie has done.
Allen resisted getting drawn into a political debate, but he did say that if Atlantic City had declared bankruptcy — something that loomed as a real threat before the state takeover — Hard Rock would not have invested there.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, a fellow Republican, was less reticent.
"Tell me something the governor has done" to make Atlantic City better, he said. "Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything."
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