HM on location: Hard Rock updates growth plans

NEW YORK—At the Hard Rock Café in Times Square yesterday, the leadership team of Hard Rock International, including several members of the Seminole Tribe ownership group, disclosed reopening dates for two of its Florida hotels that are currently undergoing $2.2 billion in expansions. The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa will reopen on October 3, followed by the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood on October 24.

The expansions were necessary, said James Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, because the hotels already are operating at 98 percent occupancy. “We don't have rooms to sell,” he said.. Allen told Hotel Management his team examined the number of people who were not able to secure reservations and used the data to determine how many new rooms—and what kinds of new features—the hotels would need.

The Guitar Hotel

The biggest addition to the Hollywood property began to literally take shape 12 years ago when Allen began suggesting a hotel built in the shape of a guitar, echoing the brand’s logo. “At the time, everyone thought we were a little bit crazy,” said Allen. “That's not the first time we've been accused of that.”

Steve Peck, associate principal with Klai Juba Wald Architects, suggested a traditional rectangle building with a guitar-shaped design on the glass facade. “And I said, ‘No, no, that's not what we're talking about. We want the building to actually be shaped [like a guitar].’” The late Vince DeSimone, founder and chairman of DeSimone Consulting Engineers, expressed his concerns about the idea with colorful language, Allen recalled, but came on board to help make the structure possible before he died in 2016.

James Carry, principal/regional managing director-Americas at Wilson Associates, joined up five years ago to create the 638 guestrooms in the tower, spending a year on the first mockup, considering all the possibilities the shape of a guitar afforded them. “The building was originally designed to not use the curved glass as part of the guestroom,” Carry told Hotel Management. “I put together a slideshow called ‘Curve Appeal’ where we showed spaces that use angled or curved glass and how dramatic they were and we actually talked [Allen] into utilizing the entire edge of that guitar for guestrooms and suites.” All of the curves are different, Carry added, so none of the rooms with curved edges can be designed identically.

The main challenge the team faced in creating the 450-foot tower was the cost. “Obviously, a building that's shaped like this is more expensive than a rectangle,” Allen told Hotel Management, citing the complete glass façade as an added cost. “But I think that once we got through the economics—and obviously, that's where I wanted to recognize Vince DeSimone, our structural engineer—then it was frankly like every other hotel.”

The hotel also is getting overwater bungalow suites on the man-made lake, each with private plunge pools. These bungalows, meant to evoke Bora Bora resorts, will give guests direct access to the water. “This is something you traditionally don't see unless you're in the international markets, specifically over in the Asian Pacific,” he said. The 168 guestrooms in the Oasis Tower will have views of the pool and first-level rooms with direct access to the building's private pool.

When the $1.5 billion expansion to the Hollywood hotel is completed, the hotel will have 1,274 guestrooms across three towers. Inside, the lobby will have the Oculus, a water entertainment feature like the Bellagio’s fountains in Las Vegas, with projected images and music, all designed by the Rockwell Group. The $125 million Hard Rock Live space will host sporting and entertainment events, starting with a performance from Maroon 5 the day after the hotel reopens.

The hotel also will have 141,000 square feet of convention space, which Allen expects to help boost revenue significantly. “The margins in the casino business are obviously much stronger than the margins in food, beverage and hotel rooms,” he noted. "You always have to look at a combination of both gross revenue and obviously the net EBITDA the property can generate.”

Allen expects the hotel to achieve a return on the investment within three to seven years.

Tampa’s Turn

The Hollywood hotel has 100 acres for the Hard Rock team to play with, while the Tampa property has only 35. The property may not get a tower shaped like a guitar, but it will get a new 15-story tower with 564 rooms and suites as well as new meeting space, convention space and retail facilities. The lobby will have a gold-plated piano once owned by Elvis Presley.

The property’s existing occupancy level proves that there is demand for an upscale experience in the city, Steve Bonner, president of Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa, told Hotel Management. “There are so many people coming into Florida. We're not very far from Disney and from the beach and from all these places where people are going to, so there's just tremendous demand.” Once the hotel has reopened, Bonner expects to see a slight shift to upscale in the target demographic. “The Tampa market will keep growing and we probably will grow right along with it,” he said.

In total, the Tampa hotel will have 798 guestrooms and 57,000 square feet of convention space.

Hard Rock’s Growth

Before the two Florida properties reopen, Hard Rock will officially open its London hotel (which has soft-opened). The company plans to open its second hotel in India, its first in Amsterdam and its third in Spain. A hotel in Sacramento, Calif., will open just around the time the two Florida hotels reopen. 

Currently, Hard Rock has 27 hotels worldwide with 16,200 guestrooms and 31 hotels slated to open by 2022, Allen noted much of the company's growth in the coming years will be international. In total, the company has a presence in 75 countries with 245 Hard Rock-branded venues. 

Photo credits: Hard Rock