Big, red letters on the oceanfront marquee for the Claridge Casino Hotel have begun to fade. Hopes for reviving the Claridge appear to be fading, too.
The Depression-era hotel, reborn as a casino in the 1980s, was supposed to undergo yet another redevelopment into a posh “lifestyle” resort.
But those plans have crumbled.
Claiming he was duped into believing the project was all set to go, Philadelphia developer Christopher DiGeorge cqhas filed a lawsuit against the Claridge’s parent company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., seeking more than $40 million in damages. He says Caesars abruptly pulled out and left him “hung out to dry.”
“The Claridge was poised to become one of the truly great lifestyle hotels in the United States until Caesars breached our deal,” DiGeorge said.
Jennifer Weissman cq, regional vice president of marketing for Caesars, declined to comment on the litigation or the Claridge project.
“That would be responded to in court,” Weissman said of the suit, which was filed last month in state Superior Court in Atlantic City.
DiGeorge said he planned to transform the Claridge into a chic Morgans Hotel Group-branded resort that would have featured an array of casino, dining and entertainment attractions catering to affluent customers.
“Morgans’ entry into Atlantic City would have been international news and would have been very good for all of Atlantic City,” DiGeorge said. “Morgans’ brands include such world-renowned hotels as the Delano, Mondrian, Hudson, Royalton and Shore Club and formerly the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas. These are among the most prestigious lifestyle hotels in the world, and the Claridge was going to be next.”
The Claridge’s now-closed gambling space would have been resurrected as a Playboy Club casino, according to DiGeorge’s development plan. Trendy nightclubs, gourmet restaurants, a burlesque-themed theater and a Turkish bathhouse were other key parts of the project. High rollers would have been pampered in ultra-luxe supersuites.
In 2010, Caesars invested $20 million into the Claridge to give its dated guest rooms a facelift and revitalize the building’s red-brick exterior. At that time, company officials said the remodeling would create an “edgy feel” for an aged hotel that had developed a dowdy image in the modern casino era.
The 500-room Claridge continues to operate as a hotel as part of the sprawling Bally’s Atlantic City casino complex. However, the casino space in the Claridge was closed last winter and remains sealed off behind temporary walls.
DiGeorge, of DiGeorge Atlantic Properties LLC, said he was secretly brought in by Caesars Entertainment to rejuvenate the Claridge. Attention turned to the Claridge in 2010 after Caesars decided not to proceed with development projects at two other of its Atlantic City casinos, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat, DiGeorge said.
“The key aspects of the deal were finalized by December 2010, and from January 2011 until the end of July 2011, our development team was working full time on the project,” he said. “Everything seemed to be going fine when Caesars suddenly decided to form its own lifestyle hotel division last May and, then, without any explanation, they simply walked away from the deal last July and left us holding the bag and out of pocket a very substantial amount of money.”
DiGeorge declined to divulge how much money he spent, although his lawsuit maintains he “continued to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars” while the project was still alive. The suit says the Claridge project was originally estimated to cost about $41 million, but was later increased to $52 million.
The redevelopment plan was designed to give the Claridge a hip atmosphere reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach hotels. The Claridge is one of the few remaining historic hotels from Atlantic City’s tourist heyday as the “Queen of Resorts.” When it opened in 1929, the 24-story building was dubbed the “Skyscraper by the Sea.”
In 1981, the Claridge began a second life as a casino. Its days as a stand-alone casino ended in 2002, when it was folded into the Bally’s casino hotel complex following an ownership change. Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., which has since been renamed Caesars Entertainment, acquired the Claridge in 2005.
Once offering three floors of gambling, the Claridge was downsized to only one level of casino space in 2009 as business waned in the sluggish economy. The Claridge’s last floor of gambling was shut down in February as part of a larger redevelopment plan for the Bally’s complex. Caesars has said it will add new retail, dining and entertainment attractions at Bally’s, but has not yet announced any names or a construction schedule.