In 2004, Tropicana Casino and Resort and its then-chief executive Dennis Gomes gambled that Atlantic City’s casino customers were ready for something more than gambling.
Hoping to make the city more attractive to tourists, Gomes created a $285 million retail, dining and entertainment complex that was remarkable at that time for its lack of slot machines and table games.
Eight years later, Tropicana’s mall-like attraction, called The Quarter, is a big success, proving that Gomes was right, officials said Monday during a ceremony in honor of the late casino leader.
“Dennis was the first person who knew what needed to be done,” Mayor Lorenzo Langford said. “Retail, dining and entertainment was the way to go if the city wanted to survive.”
With members of the Gomes family in attendance, Tropicana dedicated The Quarter in Gomes’ memory, including the unveiling of a plaque that praises him as a “true visionary.”
“We are all standing in one of Dennis Gomes’ greatest accomplishments — The Quarter,” said Tony Rodio, Tropicana’s president and chief executive officer. “This $285 million dining, entertainment, shopping and spa complex broke all the molds when it debuted in November of 2004. It was the first development of its kind, not just in Atlantic City, but for the entire region.”
Atlantic City was far different in 2004 than it is today. At that time, the city was booming — the recession was not yet on the horizon and fierce competition from new casinos in Pennsylvania was still two years away. Many casino executives thought then that the slot machines and table games were enough to keep drawing customers back to the city. Gomes, though, conceived of The Quarter to give Atlantic City some Las Vegas-style retail and entertainment flair.
When The Quarter first opened, Gomes emphasized that it did not have one inch of casino space in it. However, that has changed in recent months. Interestingly, Tropicana has added about 30 slot machines and table games in The Quarter in hopes that the gambling action will complement the shopping, dining and nightclubs.
“The Quarter is wildly successful,” Rodio said, adding that some of its chain restaurants are among the top performers for their companies. “It continues to be a huge success.”
Reminiscent of Old Havana in the 1940s, The Quarter features soaring corridors, festive plazas and lively storefronts amid artificial palm trees, faux cobblestone streets and simulated blue skies. Upscale shops, restaurants and nightclubs are spread out over 200,000 square feet of space. The Quarter also has the 500-room Havana Tower hotel complex.
When Gomes opened The Quarter, he noted that it included attractions for families as well as the adults-only casino crowd. These days, shops such as Seashore Kids and Jake’s Dog House pet boutique and an IMAX movie theater are sprinkled in with glitzy nightclubs and gourmet restaurants.
“People now talk about Atlantic City in terms of shopping, in terms of dining and in terms of entertainment,” Langford said of The Quarter’s impact on the tourist market.
Tragically, a parking garage collapsed Oct. 30, 2003, during The Quarter’s construction, killing four workers and injuring 21 others. Investigators blamed the collapse on a flawed design and faulty construction.
Gomes guided The Quarter as president of resort operations at Aztar Corp., Tropicana’s former owner. He left Aztar in 2005 amid a management shakeup. He returned to Atlantic City in 2010 to buy Resorts Casino Hotel for $31.5 million in a partnership with New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey.
His son, Aaron Gomes, the executive vice president of operations at Resorts, recalled how fond his father was of The Quarter.
“In fact, he bragged about it so much that (people) thought it was the name of his sixth child,” Aaron Gomes joked at Monday’s dedication ceremony.
The Quarter now joins another Atlantic City landmark dedicated in Gomes’ memory. In May, the city renamed the portion of North Carolina Avenue in front of Resorts as “Dennis C. Gomes Avenue.”
Gomes, 68, of Margate, died Feb. 24 from complications of kidney dialysis. His widow, Barbara, talked about Gomes’ love for The Quarter and the entire city. She believes he would have celebrated having The Quarter dedicated in his honor.
“He thought it was a great thing,” she said.
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