ATLANTIC CITY — Sparks fly off steel beams high into the air. A gentle mist from a power washer sprays in whichever direction the ocean breeze desires. Workers shout to be heard over their trucks and tools.

The $500 million renovation project at the site of the soon-to-be Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is a symphony for the senses.

And while the executives in designer suits and shiny shoes are the ones who typically get credit for ushering in the age of Hard Rock in Atlantic City — due to start June 28 — it’s the men and women in hard hats working long hours each and every day who are bringing it to life.

“It feels like we’re reviving Atlantic City with this project,” said Hakeem Shaw, a laborer with Building and General Construction Laborers Local 77. “There’s a lot of attention. People are interested with what’s going on, asking questions. And usually people don’t care when you’re doing stuff down here.”

Shaw was working demolition at the site for a few weeks before he was recently reassigned to help with the outside facade. The 27-year old from Moorestown, Burlington County, said there is a sense of pride among his union brethren about the work being done on a project that garners so much outside attention.

“We get a chance to put our stamp on it and say that we were a part of this,” he said. “Anytime I come down with my wife and kids, they can say, ‘Daddy had something to do with this.’ And that’s always fun.”

Devon Harris, a 28-year old plasterer, said he wasn’t entirely certain about what the final product was going to be when he started almost three months ago. But now that he understands the significance of the project, he said his first job on a casino will be memorable.

“One day I’ll be able to walk by and say I helped build this, helped put this up,” the man from Willingboro, Burlington County, said through a chain-link fence that separates the Boardwalk from the construction site. “I’ll be happy to come back here because I’ll be here when it’s finished.”

Overseeing Shaw and Harris was the Boardwalk superintendent, who declined to give a name. On a recent Thursday morning, he was in charge of a 74-man crew working on the Boardwalk entrance to the casino hotel. Overall, he said, there were close to 700 employees at the site on a given day working on the shuttered building.

The 40-year construction veteran from Pennsylvania said he worked on the Parx and SugarHouse casinos there, but this project feels different.

“This is a lot more intricate right here,” he said. “There’s a lot more stuff going on, lot of moving parts.”

Enrique Alvarez, 31, of Atlantic City, was pouring concrete at the site of the Rock Stop, Hard Rock’s gas station and convenience store, which will abut Pacific Avenue. He said working on a project of this magnitude in his hometown feels special.

“We all know what Hard Rock Casino means to this city, to the people here who are looking for work,” he said. “There’s a little bit of pressure to make this the best Atlantic City has. We want that.”

Shaw said he is looking forward to bringing his family down and showing off what he and hundreds of others brought to the city.

“I enjoy working on it, but I’m probably more excited to see the finished product,” he said before turning away and heading back to work.

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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