When Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort opened 26 years ago, it was like nothing the city had ever seen.
From over-the-top chandeliers to its lavish 4,500-square-foot penthouse suites to its Indian theme, everything about the property was different from the other casinos that lined the Boardwalk at the time.
“The building is so good, it’s so grand, it’s so popular, it’s so beautiful,” said Donald J. Trump, now the Republican nominee for president, days before the opening of the $1 billion property in April 1990. “People are going to flock toward it.”(tncms-asset)4ef55b98-8c08-11e6-9d04-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Now, more than two decades later, the property once called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Trump closed for good early Monday morning, two months after management accused striking Unite Here Local 54 members of preventing a “path to profitability.”
The closing will leave more than 2,800 employees looking for work.
“It’s sad,” said Wilma Hopper, of Wayne, as she walked out of the casino Thursday afternoon for the final time. “The life is gone from the property. This was such a great property. I remember coming here when it first opened and there was nothing else like it.”
During the last week, the sound of slot machine winner payouts has been replaced with an eerie silence that has taken over the 14-acre site. Some casino-goers have taken pictures to remember the last moments of the dying property. For the last couple of weeks, employees have been busy closing down the property, including roping off slot machines with police tape.
“It was so glamorous when it opened,” said Ingrid Lutzen, of Atlantic City. “The day it opened was a huge party. I remember meeting Donald and Ivana several times when they were down here. I still think that it’s the most glamorous place here.”
Everything about it was an ode to an era of excess, said Robert Ambrose, an instructor at the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management at Drexel University.
“The legacy of the Taj is a monument built on the ideology of the day, reflecting the excess of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Ambrose said. “In some respects it is a model to a lack of vision among some of the corporate power brokers and government entities that influenced decisions during that period.”
Since the concept of the Taj Mahal was first discussed in the 1980s, it has been fraught with financial issues. After Trump took over the project in the 1980s, the construction cost for the project ballooned to more than $930 million.
While it cost more than $1 billion to build, Trump had approximately $750 million in debt on the property and had to generate at least $1 million per day to pay the $100 million in interest to break even. Despite the debt on the property, Trump was still bullish about the casino.
“I think that it will be very successful,” Trump said during the opening. “I thought it would be a tremendous boost for Atlantic City and I think it will be. It’s just what Atlantic City needs.”
But the weight of the interest payments on the debt was too much for the property, as it went bankrupt a year after opening. Trump lost control of the property in 2004 to bondholders following the casino’s 2004 bankruptcy filing.
The Taj Mahal came to the brink of closing in 2014 as its parent company went through bankruptcy, but ultimately remained open under the new ownership of Icahn Enterprises, owned by billionaire Carl Icahn.
Trump, now the Republican presidential candidate, left Atlantic City, except for name on the Taj Mahal, years ago. Icahn formally took control of the Taj Mahal this year and installed the management team from the Tropicana Atlantic City, which he also owns, to run the Taj.
“This was for years the iconic, must-see property in Atlantic City. It was as big as Donald Trump’s ego,” said Joe Weinert, an analyst with Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group. “So a town that was once Trump City is now Trumpless, in every respect.”