|By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 21, 2011--ATLANTIC CITY -- Hard Rock International, one of the best known brands in gaming and entertainment, has submitted its long-awaited plans for what would be the first of two smaller-scale casino hotels allowed in Atlantic City under a new state law.
Newly filed documents with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection show the $275 million project would be built in phases, eventually topping out at 850 rooms, far more than the 200-room minimum required by the law.
Details are contained in Hard Rock's application with the DEP for a Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit, a key prerequisite for building major projects on the New Jersey shore.
Hard Rock, owned by the Florida-based Seminole Indian tribe, is the first company to step forward to propose one of the two smaller Boardwalk casinos allowed under a law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in January.
One of those casinos could have as few as 200 rooms, while the other would be required to expand up to 500 rooms within five years. Hard Rock has indicated all along that it is interested in building at least 500 rooms, said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
"My understanding is that they are looking to initially bring in a project under 500 rooms and eventually get above 500 rooms," said Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor and chief sponsor of the legislation allowing smaller casinos.
Whelan and Mayor Lorenzo Langford welcomed the Hard Rock project, but both cautioned that the application for a state environmental permit does not guarantee that the casino will actually be built.
"This is a procedural step," Langford said. "Now, it's just wait and see."
Hard Rock representatives in New Jersey and Florida did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Whelan estimated that it will be months before construction would begin, adding that "we're a long way from the finish line." He has been pushing the project to create jobs and help reinvigorate the Atlantic City casino market, now mired in a four-year revenue slump.
"What I've been saying all along is, if we bring exciting new products to Atlantic City, we can succeed in this market," Whelan said. "But I think you have to be careful in designating one or two projects as a savior. We have a tendency to look at things as the next best thing to solve all of our problems for all times."
Although Hard Rock is on track to be the first of the two new smaller-scale casinos, it won't be the next Atlantic City gaming project to open. Revel Entertainment Group is scheduled to open its $2.4 billion megaresort on May 15, 2012.
Revel, which will feature 1,100 guest rooms, a 150,000-square-foot casino and an array of upscale restaurants, nightclubs, pools and other nongaming attractions, is a throwback to the old building requirements for Atlantic City casinos. Previously, New Jersey law required at least 500 hotel rooms.
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.
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