Dennis Gomes, the highly regarded casino visionary, first entertained the idea of bringing Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville franchise to Resorts Casino Hotel a year ago.
Gomes, who died in February, imagined his casino as a haven for the Buffett fans, better known as Parrot Heads. The project would bring another nongaming component to Atlantic City at a time when a diversified market was badly needed in the resort. Initial plans eventually fizzled but were rejuvenated last winter, said Aaron Gomes, Dennis Gomes’ son and the casino’s executive vice president of operations.
“Somebody had given him a study saying the largest concentration of Parrot Heads in the entire country was centered around New Jersey and Philadelphia. Most casino executives know gaming revenue is purely a formula of how many people you can get in the door and how many attractions you have. So we thought, there’s no better attraction we could think of than Margaritaville,” Aaron Gomes said Tuesday afternoon following the project’s formal announcement. “It’s more special because he brought it here. So we’re kind of seeing it through.”
The $35.5 million island-themed expansion project, which will include two restaurants, a bar, retail and gaming, will mark the casino’s first major undertaking since Gomes’ death. While those elements of the project became public in recent weeks as the casino applied for various approvals, Resorts officials had declined to comment publicly until Tuesday. Buffett and Gov. Chris Christie joined Resorts officials for the formal announcement.
Construction will begin in September, and all elements of the project should open by May.
“Here’s another bit of nontraditional-type entertainment coming to Atlantic City,” Christie said. “Having Margaritaville here, an entirely different brand than anything you have up and down the Boardwalk now, we’re confident we’ll attract more and different types of people to Atlantic City.”
The project is expected to generate 238 construction jobs, 45 professional temporary jobs and 162 permanent jobs. Because the casino falls in the boundaries of the Atlantic City Tourism District created by the state last year, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is responsible for the project’s land-use approvals. On Tuesday, however, the CRDA also took steps toward approving $12.5 million in financing — a little more than one-third of the project’s total cost.
On July 18, Resorts also applied to the state Economic Development Authority for grant financing for the project, but the exact amount requested could not be learned Tuesday. EDA spokeswoman Hollie Gilroy said the application is under review.
A CRDA resolution states that the remainder of the project’s financing will come from owner equity. Resorts officials declined to address the project’s financing, including any financial arrangements with Buffett, who is scheduled to appear Aug. 4 at Boardwalk Hall.
Buffett heads a casino and restaurant empire based around his 1970s hit song “Margaritaville.” Last year he opened the Margaritaville Casino in Biloxi, Miss. Another Margaritaville Casino is scheduled to open next year in Bossier City, La. Four years ago, the songwriter was engaged in discussions of transforming what is now the Golden Nugget Atlantic City into one of his tropical-themed casinos, but the deal fizzled and the sale fell through.
“Atlantic City has always historically been a great beach town, and needless to say I thrive in those kinds of communities,” Buffett said Tuesday.
Key among the expansion will be the rebuilding of Steeplechase Pier, the former amusement pier that burned in 1988. On the pier will be a year-round LandShark Bar & Grill, which will connect to a seasonal beach bar with volleyball and bocce ball courts. Resorts owner Morris Bailey described the outdoor component as a beautiful beach club “done the right way.”
“The vision of Atlantic City now being brought back to the beach and Boardwalk is something I believe in,” Bailey said.
A $2.3 million facade-improvement project financed by the CRDA will revamp the casino’s Boardwalk entrance. A large Margaritaville sign will face the Boardwalk perched on top of a sloped roof covered with a material that appears to be beach grass.
A Margaritaville Cafe will be the casino’s centerpiece restaurant with seating on the Boardwalk, replacing Breadsticks Bar & Grill. The current 12-foot ceilings will be knocked out to allow for another 20 feet of space, creating a bright atrium in the restaurant. That will allow enough space for the restaurant to hang its signature airplane from the ceiling, said project architect Tom Sykes, of Atlantic City-based SOSH Architects.
“We’re not surrendering Resorts. It’s Margaritaville at Resorts,” Sykes said.
The casino also is not surrendering the Roaring ’20s theme it adopted a year ago in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the hit HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”
Gomes said the 1920s theme is distinctive for the casino, which was carved out of the old Haddon Hall hotel. The casino is currently considering ways to incorporate the themes and has no plans to abandon the Roaring ’20s brand, he said. Resorts dresses its cocktail servers as 1920s flappers, and rooms were recently renovated in keeping with a Prohibition-era decor.
“The Margaritaville theme ... it’s not going to be all over the place. It’s going to be a small section of the casino,” Gomes said.
Regardless of the size of the project, Christie said he believes the island theme will be key to Resorts’ identity.
“I have a tendency to believe that when Jimmy Buffett comes into a locality, he tends to dominate. You’re going to see the island theme come in here on this section of the Boardwalk and really take off and dominate,” Christie said. “That’s good for this section of the Boardwalk and good for Atlantic City.
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