|By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 21, 2011--ATLANTIC CITY -- They are de-Trumping the Trump Marina Hotel Casino.
From the signs on the building to the letterhead on the stationary, the last vestiges of Donald Trump are gradually being removed as the property becomes a Golden Nugget casino under new ownership.
The New Jersey Casino Control Commission is scheduled to approve the $38 million sale on Monday, clearing the way for new owner Landry's Inc. to officially take over at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
"At 6 a.m., the construction walls will go up and we will begin work right away," said Amy Chasey, vice president of marketing for Golden Nugget Las Vegas. "We want to show some energy and liveliness on the very first day. We want people to see the changes that are going on."
Landry's, a Houston-based gaming, restaurant and entertainment conglomerate, owns the Golden Nugget casino hotels in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nev. The company's much-acclaimed renovation of the Las Vegas casino into an upscale resort will serve as a model for Trump Marina's transformation into Atlantic City's Golden Nugget.
"This is going to be a very high-design property," said Tilman Fertitta, chairman and chief executive officer of Landry's. "You will never know you were in Trump Marina. The Trump Marina is a very nice box to begin with. It's not all chopped up like some of the properties on the Boardwalk. It's going to convert into the glitzy Golden Nugget in a very beautiful way."
Landry's plans to invest about $150 million for the casino's facelift, including a new look for the building's now-drab exterior, remodeled hotel rooms, new restaurants, bars, retail stores and a lavish spa. The casino floor will be freshened up, too. Golden Nugget will also add a new poker room, keno room and simulcasting parlor.
Renovations will continue for months, but Landry's is preparing to open some attractions for Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kick-off for Atlantic City's peak summer season. An upscale Chart House seafood restaurant will take the place of Trump Marina's old Harborview restaurant next week. New temporary bars, lounges and a Red Room nightclub will also be ready for the holiday, Chasey said.
Golden Nugget is using "Watch the Transformation!" as the slogan for the changeover. A billboard off the Atlantic City Expressway beckons customers with the words, "Out with the old ... In with the Gold."
The venerable Golden Nugget name is returning to Atlantic City after a nearly 25-year absence, although on a different casino. What is now the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort opened in 1980 as the Golden Nugget, then owned by Las Vegas gaming mogul Steve Wynn. The Golden Nugget name vanished when Wynn sold the casino to Bally Manufacturing Corp. for $440 million in 1987. Trump Marina will now become the latest version of Golden Nugget.
"We're trying to make this deal a fun deal, so people can watch this transformation from Trump to Golden Nugget over the next six months," Fertitta said.
Trump Marina went through other changes under Trump ownership. Once known as Trump Castle, it was renamed Trump Marina in 1997. Hilton Hotels Corp. originally built the casino in the 1980s, but was denied a gaming license for associating with an attorney who had alleged mob ties. Donald Trump bought the property from Hilton for $320 million in 1985. He owned it until fall 1996, when he sold it for $485 million to Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., the predecessor to Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., the current owner.
Landry's purchase price of $38 million reflects both the plunging real estate values of Atlantic City casinos and Trump Marina's financial troubles. Trump Marina, the weak sister of the three Trump Entertainment casinos, suffered a nearly $2.3 million loss in the first quarter of this year and was $8.3 million in the red for all of 2010.
Fertitta, however, expressed confidence in the longterm prospects for the Atlantic City market. The city has struggled with a four-year revenue slump caused by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states, particularly Pennsylvania.
"I'm a longterm player," Fertitta said. "I don't flip things. This is a place I want to own for many years."
Although the casino is being rebranded as a Golden Nugget, one Trump Marina sign will remain on the hotel tower for a few more months, serving as a symbol of the property's transition from Trump to Landry's. Other remnants of the Trump name are being erased, including a gigantic Trump Marina sign that was stripped off the building's facade last Monday.
"We want the Trump customers," Fertitta said, noting that Golden Nugget will honor rewards points that patrons accumulated under the Trump loyalty program. "They have a very loyal base at that particular property. They have been going there for years."
Trump Marina customers seemed excited Friday about the changes ahead. Even while expressing fondness for the casino, they described it as outdated and in need of a makeover.
"People are right. It's probably tired. We look forward to the improvements," said Richard Carey, of Ocean View, Del.
Carey's wife, Diane, said she enjoys Trump Marina's location in the Marina District, across town from the more-congested Boardwalk casino zone.
"It's not down in the hustle and bustle," she said. "That's a plus for us."
Margaret Earvin, a tourist from Dallas, marveled at the model room samples that give a sneak preview of what Golden Nugget's renovated hotel will look like.
"I think it will be excellent to come back and visit when it is the Golden Nugget," Earvin said. "Certainly, the property could be improved and updated."
In all, about 735 hotel rooms will be refurbished. Golden Nugget is using its new Rush hotel tower in Las Vegas as a model for Trump Marina's room renovation. The contemporary decor features red and brown shades as the color schemes, new plasma TVs, new desks and renovated bathrooms.
Contact Donald Wittkowski:
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.
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