ATLANTIC CITY, NJ—There will be a new player competing for business this June on the boardwalk—and that’s Hard Rock International, with its 17 acres of real estate in a building that used to house the Trump Taj Mahal.
“We had identified quite a few years ago that Atlantic City, while certainly having its ups and downs, was still the second largest gaming market in the United States,” said Jim Allen, chairman/CEO at Hard Rock. “We felt that if there was an opportunity that made sense from a business and an ROI standpoint, we would evaluate what came our way; when we looked at the bones and the actual physical plant of the Taj Mahal, I was very cognizant of its potential to be renovated into a new and unbelievable product.”
Hard Rock agreed in March 2017 to purchase Atlantic City’s former Taj Mahal, promising to invest more than $300 million to purchase, substantially renovate and reopen the property. In partnership with the Morris and Jingoli families, Hard Rock is the majority owner of the branded Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
“We really didn’t get into construction until the fall,” he said. “It took time for permits and approvals and drawings and designs, etc. We tried to get as much done on the exterior as we could before the cold season hit, but major work started happening in September.”
Hard Rock has been renovating all 2,000 guestrooms—1,250 of them have been completely gutted. “This is not a renovation that is some paint and some wallcovering, and putting some Hard Rock memorabilia in,” Allen said. “There’s more than 1,000 construction workers on the job every day, and [there have been] for months. We are really creating a product that’s going to be at the highest level of any property in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.”
The casino floor, front desk, lobby and entrance will be new, as will the property’s F&B concepts and ballrooms.
“I definitely think everyone—the casinos, the city government, the county government, the state government, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA)—realized that the challenges of the past needed to be put behind the town and figure out how people could work together to move forward,” he said. “I definitely think that has happened.”
Hard Rock doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to designing its properties. “We always look at each destination,” Allen said. “We create a storyline—for lack of better terms, the lyrics or a music script—to what the design is.” For this particular property, the core focus has been to completely move away from Taj Mahal.
When asked if Hard Rock would be keeping anything within the property, he answered: “Nothing; there will be no reference whatsoever to anything of the Taj Mahal or the Trump Organization.”
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will open with 2,200 slots and 120 table games. There will also be 150,000 sq. ft. of space for large conventions, smaller events and trade shows. The property will also have two separate arenas for live music, sporting events, conferences, and shows, offering more than 7,000 seats in total. The entertainment lineup set to kick off the summer will include performances from a range of entertainers, including Amy Schumer and Friends, Florida Georgia Line and more.
“We initially committed to doing 200 acts in our first year of operation,” Allen said. “We’ve now exceeded that, and it looks [like] we’re going to end up with more than 300. Frankly, there’s no property in Las Vegas that’s doing name entertainment 300 nights a year.”
Allen attributed Hard Rock’s success in this area to its continued dedication to entertainment first. “We do over 3,500 live music events on an annual basis, so our relationships in this area is something that I think will help generate more interest in Atlantic City,” he said.
Hard Rock has also moved into the theater category with its entertainment options. “We’re going to have real off-Broadway happening in Atlantic City casinos, specifically the Hard Rock, and that’s never been done before at this level of commitment,” Allen said.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will have five different room categories. Each guestroom and suite will offer guests the brand’s The Sound of Your Stay music amenity program, which enables guests to set the mood with complimentary vinyl records or jam out on a Fender guitar.
There will be property-wide WiFi; 24-hour in-room dining; towel and chair services at Hard Rock Beach or at the indoor pool; 24-hour access to Body Rock Fitness; Tesla or electric vehicle charging stations; a Hard Rock Cafe; and the Rock Spa & Salon.
“Our real focus, the balance of the summer, will be to provide the highest level of guest service and guest experience,” Allen said. “We certainly have the experience. We’ve done it countless times in 75 countries around the world.” HB