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Tampa Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino tops out hotel tower as part of $700 million expansion

TAMPA — Big construction projects are not easy, but harder still is the challenge of more than tripling the size of one of your key operations while 10,000 to 15,000 customers a day come through the property, more than 20,000 on weekends.

That, however, is what's going on at the Tampa Seminole Hard Rock & Casino at Interstate 4 and Orient Road. There, the tribe on Tuesday marked a key milestone in its $700 million expansion. As hundreds of late-morning gamblers played video slots and poker inside, workers outside hoisted the uppermost beam into place atop a new 15-story hotel tower, expected to open in mid-2019.

The 564 new rooms can't be ready too soon, said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International, which is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

"When we run at over 98 percent occupancy (in the current 250-room hotel) since day one, we know that there's a lot of people who would enjoy and visit this facility, but we just haven't had enough hotel rooms," he said.

The new tower will give the tribe about 800 rooms on its Tampa property, including 88 suites (79 of them new). The hotel tower's top floor will offer a private gaming parlor for VIP guests, with a similarly exclusive check-in and private elevators to the high-end suites.

An expanded deck the size of a football field will include three pools and a 120-seat restaurant, plus a 25,000-square-foot spa and salon nearby. There also will be a 200-seat Italian restaurant, a 30,000-square-foot event center with a large ballroom and 700 more parking spaces. The number of places to shop will more than triple, and the casino will be renovated, ending up with 5,000 slots machines and nearly 200 gaming tables.

"It's virtually going to be a brand-new building," Allen said.

Even with the casino's can't-miss-it location on I-4, it's easy to forget how explosive the growth there has been. Until the early 2000s, a few members of the tribe still lived on the property, but they agreed to move so the casino could be expanded. The Seminoles previously had licensing agreements with Hard Rock, but bought the company in 2006 for $965 million, and Hard Rock's business has grown rapidly since. Along the way, Allen has been credited with seeing Hard Rock's potential as a hotel and casino brand, not just as a chain of music-themed cafes.

Now, Allen said, citing industry statistics reported to state regulators and Wall Street but not providing any specific numbers, the Tampa casino is the most successful individual casino in the nation when it comes to operating profits. A future phase of expansion is possible, he said, but no discussion of that is likely until at least two or three years after the current expansion is open and operating.

Clearly, though, the tribe is focused on extending its reach, and not just here. The work being done in Tampa is part of a $2.4 billion investment by the Seminole Tribe of Florida in its two flagship casinos: Tampa and in Hollywood, Fla.

"You see what this property has grown into," Seminole Tribe chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. said. "We're not done yet."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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