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Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey
Refurbishing all 480 Rooms in its Ocean Tower

By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 21, 2011--ATLANTIC CITY -- The Ocean Tower at Resorts Casino Hotel is old enough for the flapper girls, bootleggers and other figures from the Roaring '20s to have slept in its rooms and roamed its hallways while making their way to Prohibition parties.

Nine decades later, the building's owners are recapturing that 1920s feel -- and marrying it with current comforts.

Resorts is refurbishing all 480 guest rooms in the nine-story tower to give the grande dame of the Boardwalk a fresh new look.

The renovation job is the biggest project to date by Resorts' new owners as they transform Atlantic City's oldest casino into a flashier, more upscale property to vie with its younger rivals.

"It was the first thing we knew we needed to do," said Dennis Gomes, Resorts' chief executive officer. "It's all the more reason to do it, because of the competition."

Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey bought Resorts in December for $31.5 million after the previous owners had defaulted on the mortgage and a group of lenders took control.

Interestingly, Gomes and Bailey have embraced the casino hotel's 1920s roots while giving the property a facelift. Resorts, carved out of the old Haddon Hall hotel from the 1920s, has adopted a Roaring '20s theme as part of its rebranding.

The Ocean Tower is the former Haddon Hall. Resorts also has an art deco-style hotel, called the Rendezvous Tower, that was built in 2004. Gomes noted that customers had preferred to stay in the Rendezvous Tower because of the Ocean Tower's outdated look prior to the renovations.

"This was a tower that nobody wanted to stay in," Gomes said Wednesday while giving a tour of the refurbished rooms. "Now, it's starting to reverse itself because it is as nice or nicer than the newer tower and also has ocean views."

Gomes declined to divulge the cost of the renovation project other than to say that it was considerably more than the $2.5 million price tag for the casino's new Asian gambling parlor.

"It's definitely the biggest thing that we've done," he said.

The Ocean Tower's former garish decor, left over from the days when Sun International Hotels owned the casino from 1996 to 2001, has been ripped out and replaced with 1920s-inspired furnishings.

Beige wallpaper and inviting blue carpeting decorate the corridors now. The hallways once were covered with gaudy carpets trimmed in a bright orange, yellow, red and green pattern.

"It was horrible," Gomes said. "Sun wanted to make it look like the Bahamas."

A kitschy, beach-themed decor formerly dominated the guest rooms. Now, the rooms have taken on a more luxurious look reminiscent of the 1920s. Guests will step into suites and regular rooms that feature ornate beds, dark-colored wood, leather chairs and sofas and even some reproduction 1920s-style telephones.

"We have been getting very good, very positive comments from our guests, especially the ones who stay with us on a regular basis," said Nico Bardon-deSegonzac, Resorts' senior director of hotel operations.

Resorts has completed renovations on about 90 percent of the rooms, with the remainder expected to be done in about three weeks.

"We feel that everything in this building was in pristine condition, except for the rooms and halls," Gomes said. "It's not that it was bad, but it was garish and not that warm and inviting. This renovation project is consistent with our Roaring '20s theme, and is warm and inviting and luxurious."

Resorts' project continues a trend among Atlantic City's casinos to spruce up their hotel towers in advance of next May's grand opening of what is sure to be a powerful new competitor, the $2.4 billion Revel megaresort. Gomes, however, said Resorts was planning to renovate its rooms regardless of Revel.

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Caesars Atlantic City, the Claridge Tower at Bally's Atlantic City and Tropicana Casino and Resort are among the properties that have either recently completed renovations to their rooms and suites or are undertaking them now.

"They're all preparing for the onslaught of Revel," Gomes said of his competitors.

Atlantic City also faces stiff competition from Pennsylvania's casinos. Posh high-roller suites and nicer hotel rooms are a centerpiece of Atlantic City's strategy to attract more overnight guests while Pennsylvania concentrates on the daytripper market.

"You have to continue to reinvest in your room product and suite product. It's our bread and butter here," said Don Marrandino, president of the Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's Resort and Showboat casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp. "We certainly realize that our hotel business is extremely important to us. We have to keep it fresh and young, just like with our restaurants."

Contact Donald Wittkowski:



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