ATLANTIC CITY — After spending $1.2 billion to build the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel, Donald Trump dubbed his creation the "eighth wonder of the world."
But when the investors who acquired the property in March for $50 million from business magnate Carl Icahn are finished converting it into a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, it will bear "absolutely no resemblance to what was there before," according to Matt Harkness, Hard Rock's property president.
At a sign unveiling on Tuesday, the only visible presence Hard Rock has had in the town besides the monolithic work site, Harkness and two development partners in the project declined to talk further about exactly what visitors can expect to see when the place opens in the summer of 2018.
Gone will be the phony Persian turrets, the fake gold embellishments, the myriad elephant statues, and the rest of the gaudy trappings that once covered the elaborate interior and exterior of the property reported to house the world's largest casino when it opened in 1990. The 2,000-room casino hotel closed its doors in October 2016, part of a wave of casino closures in Atlantic City.
"We're going to have the fun, relaxed vibe that we specialize in at all of our properties … but what you will see here will be like nothing else anyone has seen along the East Coast," said Harkness, noting the company's signature decor concept of incorporating pieces of important rock n' roll memorabilia — instruments, clothing, ephemera pertaining to the music industry — culled from Hard Rock's vast warehouses and used in a "specifically Atlantic City" design.
The Florida-based Hard Rock International, which manages gambling and resort operations for the Seminole Indian tribe, announced that it is planning to spend $325 million refurnishing the Atlantic City property and plans to feature two separate arenas, with a total seating capacity of 7,000 people and 2,400 slot machines.
On Tuesday, there was no drum roll when two workers removed the blue plastic tarps from the new billboard about a half-dozen blocks from the former Taj, along a busy gateway corridor near the corner of Absecon Boulevard (U.S. Route 30) and Virginia Avenue.
Investment partners in the Hard Rock project, Joe Jingoli Jr., CEO of Joseph Jingoli & Sons, which has led redevelopment projects in New Brunswick and Camden, and Jack Morris, CEO and president of Edgewood Properties, a Piscataway-based luxury residential and commercial development company, were also on hand for the sign unveiling.
"We're all Jersey boys," Morris said of himself, Jingoli, and Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman, who grew up in nearby Northfield, but was not at the event.
"So this project means a lot to us. … We want to be a part of what we believe will be a new feeling, a new day for Atlantic City," said Morris, noting that the project will bring as many as 3,000 new jobs to a region still reeling from closures of five of its 12 casinos over the last three years.