ATLANTIC CITY — Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City executives met with more than 100 community members Tuesday to stress the casino wants the residents’ help in growing the resort.

“We will not get to the next level unless we bring together the community and the casino to get to the next level,” said Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman.

Hard Rock is on target to open sometime in June or early summer, Allen told those gathered at New Shiloh Baptist Church. The casino is being built where the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort once stood.

“We are in good shape. There is always a curveball that can happen,” Allen said.

The plan is to have Hard Rock grow the market and not just take customers from the other casinos, Allen said.

“Atlantic City has to change,” said Allen, who admitted it was risky to spend more than $500 million to renovate a 4 million-square-foot property. “We need the community to be proud of what we are doing.”

Allen was speaking to a room of mostly black attendees. He made sure to tell them that even though the name of the casino will be Hard Rock, the company’s brand is not rock ‘n’ roll, but music in general.

As an example, the co-headlining Beyonce and Jay-Z tour was booked into Hard Rock Stadium in Florida, Allen said.

The four men who made an appearance — Allen, Joseph Jingoli, Jack Morris and Matt Harkness — all have ties to either the resort, South Jersey or the state.

Although Allen was reluctant to mention the Taj Mahal, he said more than $1 billion was spent when the casino opened on April 2, 1990.

“The bones of that building are tremendous,” said Allen, who added the building was taken down to its concrete foundation and built up from there for Hard Rock.

Part of the reason for the meeting was to show the community that Hard Rock will be different from other casino operators, the perception being the casinos were on their own island apart from the city’s residents, Allen said.

One of the changes underway is that the Atlantic County Drug Court is going to be referred to as Atlantic County Recovery Court, Jingoli said.

“People who graduated from it will be accepted into our industry,” Jingoli said.

One of the aspects that will make Hard Rock different from other Atlantic City casinos is that it is properly financed and financially structured, Allen said.

Hard Rock’s strong brand name and worldwide reach is another way it will separate itself from other casinos, Allen said.

The company has 227 branded rock venues, a presence in 75 countries, has generated more than $5 billion in revenues and held more than 35,000 live-music events last year.

Hard Rock is committed to having 200 live events during its first year of operation in the resort, Allen said.

“The brand can drive people back to Atlantic City,” Allen said. “We have a diverse, eclectic list of assets to drive business back to Atlantic City. ... We are expansive. We are not in the mindset to save our way out of a problem.”

As an example of Allen’s and the company’s good faith toward the community, he mentioned Hard Rock Cafe stayed open even though the Trump Taj Mahal closed.

“We are more excited about this opportunity today than we were a year ago,” Allen said. “We are going to spend our money. We are going to change perceptions.”

The Trump Taj Mahal had a 5,100-person capacity venue called the Mark G. Etess Arena. A new 7,000-person capacity venue will be called Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena in tribute to Etess, the president and chief operating officer of the Trump Taj Mahal who died in a helicopter crash in October 1989, Allen said.

Allen believes the Etess Arena was never finished. The new venue is a completely redone version of the multipurpose space, he said.

An announcement of the inaugural performer at Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena should be made in April, Allen said prior to the meeting’s start.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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