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Hard Rock unveils plans for Atlantic City casino hotel

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Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen, center, answers a reporter's question Wednesday at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City.
Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen, center, answers a reporter's question Wednesday at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City. - ()

Hard Rock International formally unveiled its plans Wednesday for the $375 million renovation of the recently acquired former Trump Taj Mahal casino and hotel in Atlantic City.

Set to open in summer 2018 as the rebranded Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, the Boardwalk property will feature two separate 7,000-plus-seat multipurpose arenas, a larger Hard Rock Cafe, redesigned hotel rooms and an updated casino floor that will include 2,400 slots and 130 table games.

Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen said Wednesday that the company plans to "do it right" with its renovation plans, aiming "to create a true entertainment destination, not just a gambling destination."

Though Hard Rock is based in Florida, the company played up its local ties Wednesday. Allen is an Atlantic County native and investors in the project include the Jingoli family of Lawrenceville and the Morris family of Piscataway.

"We don't forget where we came from, and that's why we're back here," said Jack Morris, CEO of Piscataway-based Edgewood Properties.

Allen, who noted that the deal for the property had been finalized with billionaire investor Carl Icahn and that "the funding is in place to move forward," added that Hard Rock believes it can not only be profitable in the Atlantic City market, but that it won't need to poach customers from other properties, either.

"We are very confident that we can grow the market," Allen said.

The Taj Mahal has been shuttered since October, when Icahn and former management company Trump Entertainment Resorts closed the property due to poor performance and an ongoing labor strike over what members of Unite Here Local 54 deemed to be inferior benefits included in recent contract negotiations.

Though President Donald Trump's name adorned the casino up until earlier this year, the former Atlantic City real estate mogul has not had an ownership stake in the property for many years.

Hard Rock says the property will lead to 3,000 permanent positions and 1,000 construction jobs.

That was music to the ears of several of the state's elected officials present at Wednesday's unveiling.

Gov. Chris Christie said he is "thrilled to welcome" Hard Rock to the state and noted that the company's investment is a sign to all that "Atlantic City is worth coming into (and) worth working with."

"This is an extraordinary brand that's coming here to Atlantic City in a very big way," said Christie, who added that he didn't think Hard Rock "would come here if they didn't think they could make money."

Christie said that, collectively with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), his administration has "shown that we're committed to doing the hard things in Atlantic City," a place he said was previously far too accustomed to doing the "easy things."

"Whatever we need to do to get the previous governmental obstacles out of the way, we will do that," said Christie.

Sweeney called Wednesday a "good day" for the state.

"We're bringing Atlantic City back," Sweeney said. "We're bringing jobs back."

Local officials appear to also be on board. State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) called the project "good stuff" and Mayor Don Guardian added that the Hard Rock development was "a great way to rebuild our city."

The project even received the thumbs-up from Steven Van Zandt, the Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band guitarist and actor of “The Sopranos” fame, who was on hand Wednesday.

"These guys are going to do it right this time," Van Zandt said.

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