When the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood opened in 2004, it brought a little bit of glitz to the patch of tribal land wedged between Florida’s Turnpike and US 441.
Over the years, though, the star value faded. Hard Rock decided the company needed to do something bigger to reposition one of its key properties.
If people thought the existing hotel was surreal and out of place amid strip malls and car lots, they ain’t seen nothing yet. After 12 years of work and $1.5 billion, a 450-foot tower in the shape of a guitar stands next to the original 465-room hotel, finally bringing a genuinely Vegas flash to the dreary South Florida casino scene and raising the hotel capacity to 1,271 rooms. The new Broward landmark marks the brand’s pushing of architectural limits and amenity options at its hotels.
“We’re building something that’s an attraction,” said James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and chairman of Hard Rock International. “It’s not just gaming — not slots in a box.”
The 638-room guitar tower can be seen for miles, even from Miami, on a clear day. But much of the re-imagined resort is outside the tower.
Guests enter the new hotel through an enormous dome-shaped atrium called the Oculus, where a light, water and fire show awaits. In one direction stretches the expanded 195,000-square-foot casino and new 7,000-person, Broadway-ready entertainment venue. In another, the hotel lobby, flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside, a 13.5-acre water oasis: a lake with kayaks, full-service cabanas with flat screen TVs, and a man-made beach. A new seven-story, 168-room hotel building sits adjacent to the guitar tower and has swim-up rooms on its first floor. Nineteen different restaurants span the complex.
The long list of amenities represents a change in the business model. Before, hotel-casinos were little more than what the name implies, a hotel with a casino, and they rarely attracted guests uninterested in gambling, said Michael Pollock, managing director of gaming research company Spectrum Gaming Group. The renovated Hard Rock hotel-casino seeks to challenge that approach by making the casino one of many activities available to guests.
Pollock said the future of the industry depends on brands making this kind of change.
“Casinos that want to succeed in the future are those who have the capital to have a wider variety of attractions,” he said. “Very few people are going to come to Florida to gamble. But they’re going to go to Florida to be entertained.”
Allen said the increase in gaming options on smart phones has also pushed the brand to expand its hotels’ options.
“We created an integrated resort because the gaming industry will change in the next 10 to 15 years,” he said. “This isn’t the Las Vegas strip. We want this to be a reason to come here.”
Another reason to come: the meeting space. The new Hard Rock Hollywood has 150,000 square feet of it. With more than 1,000 rooms, the Hard Rock is now the largest South Florida convention hotel off the beach, said Robert Karver, senior manager of real estate and hospitality at Ernst & Young.
“This starts letting this property compete against markets like Orlando, San Diego, and of course Las Vegas,” said Karver. “What this does for the market is it creates a true meeting, entertainment, casino, hotel destination in South Florida that South Florida has lacked.”
Since the Seminole Tribe of Florida purchased the company in 2007 under Allen’s business leadership, the tribe has multiplied the number of Hard Rock properties. One of the first things Allen asked his team to find out when the tribe acquired Hard Rock was how many guitar symbols the company had across its empire.
Guitars abounded in the form of statues, queue dividers, door handles, memorabilia. But there was one guitar symbol missing.
“I said in passing, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we could create a hotel shaped like a guitar?’ ” said Allen.
At the time, Hard Rock owned or licensed 124 restaurants, two casinos, two concert venues, and seven hotels with a total of 3,511 rooms.
Today, the brand owns or licenses 190 restaurants, 11 casinos, seven concert venues, and 30 hotels with a capacity of 17,800 rooms. In 2016, the company bought 18 years of naming rights to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium in nearby Miami Gardens, where the Super Bowl will be played next year.
Three new Hard Rock hotels opened this year in London, Los Cabos, Mexico, and the Maldives, and the company has 37 more hotels in development.