Seminoles: $1.5B for guitar-shaped hotel, concert hall, pool and more

The current hotel at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is 12 floors, which is small by Las Vegas standards but large enough to metaphorically tower over the gambling scene in South Florida.  And it’s nothing compared to what’s next.

Seminole officials gave details Wednesday of a massive expansion that has been in the plans now for almost a decade. It includes a 450-foot guitar-shaped hotel that almost triples their room space and a new 7,000-seat concert hall that officials hope will attract events such as awards shows.

“Here in Hollywood, Florida, it will rival anything in Hollywood, California,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International. The new hall will cost $100 million, he said, and the existing 5,500-seat Hard Rock Live will be razed in March 2018.

Allen led media, Seminole tribal members and others at an outdoor event under a large tent just a few feet away from the new project, which carries an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. The work is expected to be completed in summer 2019. The NFL Dolphins’ stadium is now called Hard Rock Stadium and the Seminoles want a big splash for the Super Bowl set for here in 2020.

He said he has been working for about a decade on plans for the hotel, which is being built where the old Seminole Paradise was.

“We think the building itself will be a must-see attraction,” he said. Seminole publicists compared the guitar-shaped hotel to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the Washington Monument.

There’s also a 10-acre pool complex, featuring what they’re calling the “Bora Bora Experience,” with private villas surrounded entirely by water and waterfalls. “Chickeecabanas” will dot the banks of the lagoon-style resort pool, which will also include beach club dining and guest activity options like canoes and paddleboats.

When done the property will have about 1,300 rooms, 3,500 slot machines, 200 table games and 60,000 square feet of new retail and restaurant space.

The existing hotel opened in 2004 and has been at 96 percent capacity ever since, Allen said.

“We have not had a mass marketing campaign outside of this 50-mile radius because, frankly, we have never had the space,” Allen said.

The tribe announced plans for the hotel during compact negotiations back in March 2015 and offered renderings a year later, during a media-op visit by Gov. Rick Scott to the tribe’s Hollywood headquarters.

Back in March, workers knocked down their existing Seminole Paradise and brought in the heavy machinery to clear new space, move concrete and start construction.

They also firmed up their financial future in July, when Governor Rick Scott announced a settlement agreement on a lawsuit between the state and the tribe, allowing the tribe to conduct blackjack and other table games at its casinos in the state through 2030. With that as a baseline for their revenues, the hotel really became all-systems-go.

“Before you spend this kind of money, you need a solidified political environment,” Allen said. “And the actions of Governor Scott solidified more than 3,000 permanent jobs here at this site alone. It would be unfair to not acknowledge the work of Governor Scott.”

And they’re already the biggest and the baddest in South Florida. The Hollywood property’s haul for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, were more than $579 million — more than what the eight South Florida pari-mutuel casinos earned combined. Figures reported to the state for 2015-16 show the tribe’s seven Florida casinos took in $2.3 billion.

Allen added that he is proud to have a rating from all three major entities – Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s – adding “you’d be surprised at how respected we are.”

This is, rightfully, the Seminoles’ day.  But for one paragraph, put yourself in the shoes of the horse tracks, dog tracks and jai-alai frontons, who are pleading with the Florida legislature to get their slot taxes reduced from 35 percent to 25 percent, and to get at least low-stakes blackjack. And maybe get out from under the requirement of conducting money-losing propositions such as dog racing and jai-alai. Seeing how much farther they’re falling behind can only bolster their argument with legislators.

The Seminoles’ rise is part of a national trend with Native American casinos. A report issued this year was the first one that documented that revenues for Indian casinos surpassed those of commercial casinos. The year-over-year revenue chart for Indian casinos looks like a hill; the commercial casinos’ show only a mild incline.

Bruce Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt also appeared, and Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden (pictured) gave a drum solo prelude to the customary guitar smash held at Seminole events.

Twitter: @NickSortal

NickSortal@BellSouth.net