By Brenda Flanagan
“I think it’s a good thing — for everybody,” said Jeff DeLiberis, comptroller for UNITE HERE Local 54.
Union members welcomed the news: 3,000 new jobs coming to a revamped, rebranded Taj Mahal. The 27-year-old Taj closed last October, after a crippling strike over benefits by angry casino workers. But Hard Rock International and two local partners announced they will spend $300 million to buy and substantially remake this white elephant into a sassy, classy Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Atlantic City’s boardwalk.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to bring back the people we had to lay off,” DeLiberis said. “I work for the union. I’m the comptroller. I was out there with the people on the picket line, so I think it’s a good thing.”
DeLiberis said this is the kind of job worth striking for and waiting for. “Especially the benefits,” he said.
“They know how to run casinos,” said Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.
Guardian hailed the announcement. Hard Rock kept its cafe here open, even after Taj closed next door. The company already operates 11 casinos worldwide and Guardian says it’s already working with UNITE HERE Local 54. The mayor — who’s chafing under the current state takeover — says his beleaguered city needs the jobs and revenue.
“And then they already realize they need a union workforce. So they’re going to be paying a livable wage with benefits, which is what we’re looking for,” Guardian said. “So good news, after some really tough times for Atlantic City, but I think you can see this is the beginning of the rebirth and this is how we rebuild our city.”
Hard Rock’s CEO Jim Allen enthused, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of revitalizing one of our nation’s most iconic destinations. Atlantic City has a rich and dynamic history and we are so proud to help recapture that greatness.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie noted the purchase just validated the state’s takeover, stating, “Businesses now know that the years of irresponsible spending and taxing by the city government are over and they are ready to invest again in Atlantic City.”
For Steel Pier owner Bill Catanoso, “It’s the best news we’ve had in 25 years.”
A sky bridge connects the casino to the amusement pier — which took a huge hit after Taj closed. It’s planning a big comeback complete with a $14 million, 230-foot Ferris wheel — biggest in the northeast U.S. — due to open this summer. Catanoso knows Hard Rock’s CEO who grew up around Atlantic City.
“He’s such an innovative guy. What he’s going to do for this property is just incredible. This is going to be one of the premier properties in the world, I’m convinced when Jim gets done with this. And for us, it all ties in,” Catanoso said.
Workers will still have to wait while Hard Rock rebrands the property. There may be no more elephants. The tentative opening is reportedly scheduled for June of 2018.