Chris Paladino has been working with the group trying to revitalize Atlantic City by diversifying its economy for more than a year.
And while the Atlantic City Gateway project appears to be well on its way to reaching its goal, Paladino couldn’t overstate the importance of Hard Rock International agreeing to buy the Trump Taj Mahal and refurbish it into a casino and hotel property less than two miles from the project he’s working on.
“It’s a really big deal,” he said. “They are going to employ 2,000 to 3,000 people, which is a good thing. But it’s more than that.
“This certainly goes a long way in impacting public opinion that this is a viable place to invest.”
The deal had been in the works for months, but its announcement — last Wednesday night — came as somewhat of a surprise to the economic development community.
Adding such a big name to an area that has been shrinking its casino footprint was not expected.
“Hard Rock doesn’t just go anywhere,” Paladino said. “This is bringing one of the top three or four names in gaming in the world to Atlantic City, which not only bodes well for the success of the Gateway project, but creates an impression in the industry and the public at large that Atlantic City is a viable tourist destination.”
Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said the deal made sense in a statement he released last week.
He said the company was ready to invest $300 million in the property, which will be called the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
“We are excited to be part of this revitalization of Atlantic City, creating thousands of jobs to help local employment,” Allen said. “We are 100 percent convinced Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City will be a success.”
A success for many.
Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University, said the Hard Rock will benefit the city and his students.
“This is really a positive thing for the entire area,” he said. “This means bringing back close to 2,000 hotel rooms and 150,000 square feet of meeting space. This is important as Atlantic City moves away from gaming to being a resort town for meetings and conferences.”
His students also will gain, he said.
“This just adds to the opportunities our students have for internships and hands-on learning experiences,” Pandit said.
Pandit said Hard Rock’s ability to draw top-level entertainment acts helps separate itself from other casinos, making it an even bigger get for the city.
“That’s their focus,” he said. “They want to differentiate themselves and that’s how they do it.”
The timing couldn’t be better for Wasseem Boraie, the vice president of Boraie Development.
Last November, his company broke ground on The Beach at South Inlet in Atlantic City, an $81 million, 250-unit residential complex that is the first market-rate apartment project to go up in the city in decades.
It will be located just a few blocks from the Hard Rock casino.
“Having a world-class brand like the Hard Rock being within two blocks of our Beach at South Inlet project becomes an absolutely spectacular amenity for all of our residents that will be living there,” Boraie said in a statement. “We are so happy to see the investment in Atlantic City and we look forward to other things happening in the inlet.”
Terms of the deal were not released.
Carl Icahn, who also owns Atlantic City’s Tropicana Casino and Resort, said in a statement that he only wanted to own one casino in Atlantic City.
“After considerable analysis and deliberation we determined that we only wanted to own one operating casino property in Atlantic City,” he said. “A sale of the Taj Mahal therefore represents the optimal outcome for us. We wish Hard Rock and its partners the best of luck with the Taj Mahal.”
Icahn, the well-known billionaire investor, had closed the casino last October after failing to come to an agreement with union workers. He said in January that he had lost $300 million on the property.
Hard Rock International is based in Orlando, Florida. But the deal has a big Jersey feel.
Allen is a 1978 graduate of Mainland Regional High School in Linwood and still owns a home in Linwood, according to The Press of Atlantic City, which first broke the story of the sale.
Two other investors, the Jingoli and Morris families, have strong ties to the state as well.
Jack Morris is the CEO of Edgewood Properties, a real estate development company based in Piscataway.
Joseph Jingoli is the construction manager for Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus.
Joseph Jingoli and Michael Jingoli released the following statement:
“We are excited to be part of such an important project for Atlantic City. This project is led by a proven leader in gaming, brings hundreds of million dollars in new investment, creates hundreds of construction positions, countless positions within the Hard Rock casino-hotel and will bring thousands and thousands of new visitors to this great city. We are proud to continue our record of investment and job creation in Atlantic City.”
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said in a statement that the sale is a positive sign for the embattled city.
“We have over 160 years of investors who believe in Atlantic City, investors who continue to believe that our best days are still ahead,” he said.
“Now is the time to invest in our great city. The price is right. We need to bring back thousands of jobs for our Atlantic City residents and for South Jersey. Today’s announcement is a great step in that direction.”
Some say the Atlantic City Gateway project is leading that charge.
Paladino describes Gateway as a multiuse urban redevelopment project. The first phase will be an urban residential campus for Stockton, which will have 500 students living in town and 500 or so more coming there every day for classes.
“This is a very blocking-and-tackling urban development strategy that’s worked in urban areas all over the state,” he said. “Even on rainy February days, there’s going to 1,500 people coming and going, buying food, using the stores in the area.”
The Hard Rock, Paladino said, will impact the town and the Gateway project.
“For starters, it will help energize the boardwalk in a place that has gotten very dark,” he said.
“It directly impacts our project this way: If people feel better about Atlantic City, it accelerates our ability to fully develop AC Gateway properties.”
Paladino cautions, however, that the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City does not solve all of the city’s issues.
“What people have to continue to remember is that there is no silver bullet for Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s historically been a tourist destination for 150 years. What we’re doing is pushing the rock up the hill in basic urban development, trying to diversify the economy. But these things certainly do run parallel courses and intersect at some point.
“The Hard Rock will bring millions of people to Atlantic City. That makes it a better place, a safer place.
“It’s really a big deal.”
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On Twitter: @tombergeron5