The ultimate Grow N.J. program starts with Jersey Guys Why Morris, Jingoli feel Hard Rock venture is a gamble they are eager to take

Tom Bergeron//April 6, 2017

The ultimate Grow N.J. program starts with Jersey Guys Why Morris, Jingoli feel Hard Rock venture is a gamble they are eager to take

Tom Bergeron//April 6, 2017

Jack Morris was walking through Atlantic City with longtime friend Joe Jingoli when he knew he had finally had enough.”I saw things that I didn’t like,” he said. “I saw things that hit me straight in the heart and I said, ‘I just can’t walk away and not do anything about it.’ “

Morris and Jingoli had been talking about getting into the casino game since Revel had declared for bankruptcy a year before, in March 2016. Now it was time for action

Soon after, Morris made it happen — as only a Jersey guy could. He got into his car, drove to New York City, met with Carl Icahn and made a deal to buy the Trump Taj Mahal. Just like that.

Jingoli recalled the story with a laugh Wednesday afternoon at the formal launching of the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, a deal that will bring $300 million in investment and 3,000 jobs to the city.

“Let me tell you how this whole thing really happened,” Jingoli said. “Jack Morris got in his car a little more than 30 days ago and said, ‘I’m going up to meet with Carl Icahn and we’re just going to make a deal and buy this thing.’ He walked in and made a deal that night.

“He called me on the way back home at 10 o’clock and said, ‘We just bought the Taj Mahal and we’re closing in 30 days.’ “

State incentives have done wonders for helping to spur investment and revitalize New Jersey’s struggling urban cores. The results can be seen in Jersey City, Newark and now Camden.

But if the state is ever going to regain its place as an economic stronghold in the country  not one routinely labeled and ranked as a “tough place to do business”  it’s going to take individuals dedicated to growing the state as much as growing their bottom line to do the dirty work.

Morris and Jingoli, who teamed with the world-renowned Hard Rock International, are just the latest examples.

Don’t be fooled. Morris’ car ride to New York City wasn’t a wild dash made on a whim. That’s not a recipe for success when dealing with Icahn, one of the country’s premier dealmakers. And it’s certainly not how Morris got to where he is today.

It was the final step of a process. The final step of a vision that Morris and Jingoli saw because they are Jerseyans first.

“We’re here on the ground,” said Jingoli, who has worked and lived in Atlantic City for many years. He currently heads up efforts at the Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club to help local teenagers find the right path.

“Jack has a lot of real estate in this county. He saw this early because he’s on the ground. If you’re not here, you won’t see it. How do you get in on the bottom? You are here on the bottom.”

Smart businesspeople seeing the opportunity in their home state: It’s the ultimate Grow New Jersey program.

Morris and Jingoli know they can’t do it alone. Especially in Atlantic City, the toughest  but arguably most important  urban center in this state that needs revitalization.

They are thrilled Bart Blatstein has purchased the Showboat and a handful of other city properties in the past two years. Glad Boraie Development has broken ground on the first luxury apartment complex in the city in decades. And, of course, happier still about the soon-to-be formally introduced Gateway Project, which will bring businesses and higher ed to the city like never before.

“I have a passion for helping cities and towns that need to be revitalized,” Morris said. “It is something that I truly enjoy; it gets me fired up to have this opportunity.

“This is a big one, but you can do it when you have good partners, like the Jingoli family and Jim Allen at Hard Rock. This is not about some big company coming in here and making money. We know lots of people with lots of money. This is about putting the time and the passion and the commitment into making this work.

“Now, it’s about taking it from here and seeing where it’s going, because everybody is going to want to follow our footsteps and see how they can benefit from the success that we can bring. And we want that. We don’t think we’re going to do this ourselves. We need other good people to come in.”

Both Morris and Jingoli realize there is plenty more to do.

Allen, who also hails from New Jersey, said the Hard Rock is coming to Atlantic City because he is confident it can make money in Atlantic City. That in itself speaks volumes about a perception in the business community that the long-struggling gaming town finally may be on the upswing.

But all those involved know a revitalization can’t begin and end at a gaming table.

Jingoli stressed how the Hard Rock will bring jobs and hope to the next generation, which he sees every Wednesday night at the Boys and Girls Club programs that he himself helps teach. The latest is a construction industry course whose graduates can earn financial incentives to continue on to college or entry into construction projects themselves.

“We’re going to have 3,000 jobs,” he said. “That gives us a lot of head room to employ local people. Hard Rock has committed to having jobs that are going to be coming in one year, two years, three years and matching that to the students who are in our live classrooms at the Boys and Girls Club so that young people can say, ‘I’m going to work there.’

“That will help them make the right decisions. We believe when the choice comes to make a right or a left, they’ll make the right decisions because they’ll have the opportunities, the same opportunities that we have had. It’s our belief that if you put the same opportunities in front of these local people, you’ll get the same good positive results.”

Morris is eager to get going.

“People have asked me, ‘What are you doing here? You have so much on your plate, it’s such a big risk,’ ” he said. “And the only thing that can come to mind is: We’re the Jersey boys.

“I was born and raised in this great state. As were my partners. And I’m so proud to be here today with the Jingoli family and the Hard Rock team. They can say what they want about New Jersey, but one thing I can say is, ‘We have loyalty.’ And we don’t forget where we came from. And that’s why we’re back here.”