|By Emily Previti, The Press of Atlantic
City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 15, 2012--ATLANTIC CITY -- Carol Simpson had a simple description of the renovations taking place at the Golden Nugget Casino in the Marina District: "There's something different every day."
Simpson and her husband, Lewis, have been playing the slots multiple times each week at the Golden Nugget since before Landry's bought the former Trump Marina in May for $38 million, less than a tenth of its assessed value. Landry's CEO Tilman Fertitta immediately announced a $150 million renovation project, which is expected to wrap up in March.
Although the retired couple, from the Smithville section of Galloway Township, was mildly inconvenienced by the renovations that have been blocking off segments of the property, they appreciate the upgrades. Lewis Simpson, 71, said they were sorely needed.
"We were going to leave because of all the renovations going on, but we hung in there with them. We're comfortable here, we know everyone, and they're under renovation -- you have to give them a chance to get everything put together," said Carol Simpson, 70. "It's cleaner, it's fresher, more upscale. It's beautiful in here."
Some patrons said they hope more seating will be added during the final stages of the renovation, and others didn't really notice many changes other than the bars opening on the casino floor, where guests previously could get drinks only from cocktail servers. But most guests' impressions of the ongoing work are similar to the Simpsons'.
"We're just looking to modernize our building, to bring the masses in -- to bring people in to see what's new," said Amy Chasey, Golden Nugget's vice president of marketing. "When we bought the property, it was just so outdated and hadn't been renovated in so many years. That's the first leg of the marketing strategy: have a quality product that people will want to come see."
Chasey toured the property last week, while nearly 60 workers were painting the parking garage elevator atrium, rolling along the casino floor on motorized mobile risers, painting and spackling a meeting room, and tending to other aspects of the renovation.
High-end coffee shop Michael Patrick's Brasserie opened in the building recently, along with Cool Jeans Clothing Co. A chocolatier will join the secluded row of boutiques, including high-end women's apparel and accessories shop Flirt, along with jewelry and shoe stores.
Landry's discarded the idea of opening an Asian restaurant in a space formerly occupied by a nightclub, The Wave. Instead, Live Bar opened on New Year's Eve. The bar will feature bands and strive for a "low-key" atmosphere that Chasey said the company thinks people in its target market desire.
"The customer we're targeting is someone who wants a really good experience and doesn't want to be fighting 21-year-olds at the nightclubs. I don't know what you'd call it, but sort of like me, just people in their 30s, 40s, 50s," said the 33-year-old. "At the same time, I don't think any of it is offensive to or alienates our core slot customers, who are 60 and older. Even though everything is new and refreshed, we're seeing that people of all ages are really enjoying it."
Golden Nugget patrons also can use the Wine and WiFi lounge overlooking the atrium, where elevators lead to the casino floor and lobby area, self-park and valet parking areas. The space features free wireless Internet access, two work stations with computers and printers, leather couches and chairs, and credit-card activated machines dispensing coffee, cappuccino -- and wine.
Some Las Vegas casinos offer wine dispensers that sell two-ounce tastes or six-ounce glasses to guests, who pay with specific casino-provided debit cards, Chasey said.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement approved a pair of wine-dispensing machines at Golden Nugget earlier this month. But state regulations don't allow people to serve themselves wine, so the room is staffed with servers to assist, Chasey said.
"We really just thought it would be a nice amenity for our business and meetings guests," Chasey said of the lounge. "It's going to help us sell more meetings as well. It's going to be a selling feature of why (companies) might book here versus somewhere else."
DGE officials agreed to let Bally's, Caesars, Golden Nugget, Harrah's and Showboat Casino Hotel sell carry-out beer, wine and alcohol in their gift shops. That has begun, too.
Redecorated high-limit and 20-table poker rooms also have opened. They feature custom-made tables surrounded with leather-back chairs. The modern decor dominating the property is evident in both rooms, particularly the larger one.
"This is the nicest poker room I've ever seen -- even in Vegas," said Chasey as she surveyed its twisted metal sculptures standing in the corners and baubles dangling from light fixtures.
As Chasey walked across the casino floor, the carpet changed from the blue, marbled design featured when the property was the Trump Marina to the new print being laid: a geometric pattern dominated by yellow and red, keeping with the warm color scheme evident throughout the updated areas of the casino.
On the floor above, the existing spa will be replaced by a larger spa, salon and fitness facilities expected to open within the next month or so, Chasey said.
Half of the hotel's 700-plus rooms awaiting renovations also will be finished by then, and restaurants Grotto (Italian) and Red Sushi & Hibachi will open as well, she said.
The fifth-floor, heated, outdoor pool is expected to be finished by the end of March. It and the hot tubs scattered on the surrounding deck will stay open all year, Chasey said.
"Like that whole Aspen feel of, even though it's cold outside, you have a cocktail, you're in a jacuzzi, you have a fire pit," she said. "The pool is the last piece. Whenever that's complete, everything will be complete."
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