At Last, Good News for Atlantic City

Hard Rock Casino deal is latest development jackpot.

Artist rendering of the new Hard Rock Casino.
Artist rendering of the new Hard Rock Casino.
Photo courtesy of Hard Rock Casino.

Atlantic City has faced many challenges over the past decade. Casinos have closed, thousands have lost jobs, and late last year, the Christie administration felt compelled to take control of the city’s finances. But lately, there’s some good news coming out of Atlantic City. The seven remaining casinos showed increased profits in the fourth-quarter of 2016 and, more significantly, a new round of development is kicking in.

The former Showboat Casino reopened last summer as a non-gambling hotel, and its developer, Philadelphia-based Bart Blatstein, recently purchased three more Boardwalk parcels for about $6 million. Last summer, Blatstein also launched the Playground (formerly the Pier Shops). New Jersey-based Boraie Development has broken ground on a luxury apartment complex. Stockton University is expanding its presence in the city with a new $200 million residential, beachside campus. And a group of investors led by Hard Rock International has purchased the former Trump Taj Mahal from investor Carl Icahn with plans to rebrand and reopen the casino hotel in summer 2018.

Behind the Hard Rock deal are three guys from New Jersey who saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Atlantic City’s renaissance.
Jack Morris, CEO of Piscataway-based Edgewood Properties, and Joe Jingoli, CEO of Jingoli Construction in Lawrenceville, are longtime friends who took a walk through the beleaguered city one day and hatched a vision for the future. “People sometimes don’t realize how important A.C. is to New Jersey,” says Morris. “We in Jersey need to stick together.” Jingoli and Morris saw the need for investment. “We realized we had to do something.”

Next thing you know, Morris was meeting with Hard Rock chairman Jim Allen, also a Jersey native. They agreed that Hard Rock was the right brand for Atlantic City. In fact, Hard Rock already had a restaurant inside the Trump Taj Mahal—and the Taj was on the market.

“I was the designated hitter to make the deal with Carl Icahn to buy the Trump Taj Mahal,” says Morris. However, he eagerly shares the credit for the deal. “This was a joint effort of three Jersey boys—me, Joe Jingoli and Jim Allen.”

The $300 million deal was announced in March, along with a vision for the city’s growth. Jingoli says the project will mean “1,000 union jobs starting in June 2017, and then jobs for 3,000 casino workers full-time when the Hard Rock opens in summer 2018.” The trio is already developing relationships with local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as local businesses and the building trades.

Jingoli says the time is right for a resurgent Atlantic City. Millennials, he points out, are looking to move back into the cities. He says Atlantic City is desirable thanks to its proximity to major airports, as well as its entertainment infrastructure and the efforts of the state to stabilize its finances.

What can we expect when the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino opens next summer? It will not be the “Taj Mahal with a paint job,” says Jingoli. Rather, it will be completely renovated with a larger Hard Rock Café, redesigned hotel rooms and an updated casino. “It will be a game changer,” he says. “An entertainment destination.”

Suddenly, all those reports of an ailing Atlantic City’s imminent demise seem to be just a bit premature. In fact, with just a little luck, the patient could make a dramatic and impressive recovery in the very near future.

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