Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino begins vastly scaled-down expansion in Tampa

TAMPA — The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino said Wednesday it is expanding its Orient Road facility, but the project represents a fraction of what the casino had announced in February, when the Seminole Tribe said passage of a gambling deal by the Legislature would bring $1.8 billion worth of projects in Tampa and Hollywood.

A gaming compact signed by Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole Chairman James Billie died in the legislative session that ended in March.

The Seminoles' new plan will bring an additional parking garage with 750 spaces, a 30,000-square-foot premium gaming area, 50-table poker room, a new restaurant and other amenities, adding 100 jobs. Construction began Wednesday.

In February, the tribe said that if the gambling deal passed the Legislature, it would add a second 500-room hotel tower to the existing 244 rooms in Tampa; a music venue seating 1,500 to 2,000 fans; new banquet and meeting facilities; a new restaurant and lobby bar; and remodeling of the existing Hard Rock Cafe.

Meanwhile, the tribe was poised to add a 36-story hotel shaped like a giant guitar at the Hollywood facility that would boost its number of guest rooms to 1,273.

Tribal officials did not break out spending for each site, but it was estimated that the price tag for the Tampa expansion would have been $650 million. It would have created the biggest hotel in Hillsborough County.

Between the two projects, officials said 4,800 permanent full-time jobs and more than 14,000 construction jobs would result.

The gambling deal struck between the tribe and the governor's office would have expanded the tribal casinos' menu, allowing it to add table games such as roulette and craps. The 20-year compact would have generated $3 billion for the state over seven years, with the tribe paying a sliding percentage of revenue after that.

The deal would have also allowed slot machines to be added at existing dog and horse tracks across the state, which turned off lawmakers opposed to expanded gambling in the state.

No hotel expansion is now included in the Tampa project. No new work is being performed in Hollywood.

"This expansion project will create over 100 new permanent jobs at the casino and keep hundreds of Tampa Bay area construction workers busy for the next year," Tampa Hard Rock president John Fontana said in a statement announcing the local project. "These new additions to the property will clearly enhance the guest experience and attract more tourists from around the country."

A Hard Rock spokesman declined to divulge the cost of the new project.

It is the third expansion for the property. The most recent was a $75 million project in 2012.

Scott attended the February announcement at the Hard Rock, touting the economic development and jobs angles, and warning that 3,500 casino positions could be eliminated if the new gambling pact was not approved.

That hasn't happened. The state sued the tribe, saying the expiration last summer of a provision of the 2010 deal made blackjack games illegal. The tribe has also sued, accusing the state of not negotiating in good faith.

Table games have continued during the litigation, and no layoffs have occurred, a spokesman for the tribe said.

The massive construction projects, in whatever form they would take in the future, remain contingent upon approval of a new gambling deal, the spokesman said.

"The tribe is optimistic at the potential for a finalized agreement with the state at some point in the future," Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said.

Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch @[email protected].

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