A big, new tropical-themed sign on the Boardwalk facade of Resorts Casino Hotel makes it clear what has just arrived.
“Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville,” it proclaims.
Yes, parrotheads can rejoice.
The singer-songwriter’s devoted “parrothead” fans now have a new oceanfront retreat in Atlantic City, where they can listen to his music, sip drinks, enjoy a meal and gamble a bit.
A lineup of VIPs headed by Gov. Chris Christie and Resorts owner Morris Bailey celebrated the formal grand opening Thursday of the $35 million Margaritaville bar, restaurant and casino complex. Buffett, however, missed the ceremony because he was in Europe, a company representative said.
Dressed in a straw hat and island shirt, John Sullivan, a self-described parrothead from Montgomeryville, Pa., came to Atlantic City to join in the celebration. He predicted that many other Buffett fans will follow him.
“I think this attraction is not only fantastic for parrotheads like me, but it’s also great for the entire region after Hurricane Sandy,” said Sullivan, 56, a Pennsylvania police officer.
Christie and other speakers also pointed to Margaritaville as a symbol of the Jersey Shore’s rebuilding efforts following the Oct. 29 hurricane. In his remarks, the governor said this Memorial Day weekend represents the start of a “great new era here in Atlantic City.”
“I can tell you, what I feel in Atlantic City now is a renewed enthusiasm,” Christie told a cheering audience.
Margaritaville is the headline attraction among a series of new nongambling amenities opening for the holiday weekend at casinos across town. Atlantic City is adding new restaurants, bars, nightclubs and beach clubs to give tourists more to do than just gamble — in the process, distinguishing itself from rival casino markets in surrounding states.
Margaritaville is the centerpiece of $70 million in recent upgrades to Resorts designed to revitalize Atlantic City’s oldest casino. Bailey, who bought Resorts in 2010 for $31.5 million, expressed confidence that Margaritaville will be a “spectacular success.”
“What we needed was a new brand, some new excitement,” he said. “Now, we have what I think is the best brand in the United States.”
Bailey’s partnership with Buffett continues Resorts’ transformation in recent months. Last year, Bailey reached an agreement to have Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun become the operator and minority owner of Resorts.
Resorts is trying to recover from a $6 million gross operating loss in the first quarter of 2013. Last year, it suffered a nearly $7.8 million operating loss. Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, said with Margaritaville, Resorts is now much stronger to compete with its Boardwalk rivals.
“It puts us at the head of the class in terms of reasons to come to Atlantic City now,” Etess said.
The project’s biggest attraction is a Buffett-branded LandShark Bar & Grill, perched 200 feet out over the beach in front of Resorts. It is inspired by the “beach joints” once common along the East Coast. LandShark will serve as Atlantic City’s only full-service, year-round bar and restaurant on the ocean side of the Boardwalk, Margaritaville officials said.
Linda Hoffman, 55, of Doylestown, Pa., and her 78-year-old mother, Ethel Ann Brown, of Warwick, Pa., enjoyed drinks and a leisurely lunch Thursday afternoon on the LandShark’s outdoor deck, just yards from the ocean.
“The atmosphere is so wonderful,” Brown said. “The open setting allows us to feel the breezes, see the water and enjoy the sky.”
Brown and Hoffman paid a surprise visit to Margaritaville to see another member of their family, Erica Marshall, who works as a food server at the LandShark. Marshall, 24, of Ocean City, is Hoffman’s daughter.
Marshall is one of 600 workers employed by the Margaritaville project. Her mother described the beachfront complex as just the type of attraction Atlantic City needs to revive its economy and draw new tourists.
“Atlantic City is multidimensional,” Hoffman said. “There are things to do during the daytime, like the beach and ocean, but there are also activities at night. There is something for everybody.”
Brown believes Margaritaville will become Atlantic City’s “happening spot — the place to be.”
Other parts of the Margaritaville complex are tucked inside Resorts off the Boardwalk entrance. They include a 5 O’Clock Somewhere bar, a Margaritaville restaurant, a retail store and a coffee shop. The tropical theme extends into the casino floor, including 160 slot machines and 12 table games sporting the Margaritaville brand.
Contact Donald Wittkowski: