Seminoles unveil plans for guitar-shaped hotel, expansion

HOLLYWOOD —The oversized guitar has long been a beacon for the Hard Rock Casino chain, but the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood is looking to take that iconic symbol to new heights.

Artist conceptions for a colossal guitar-shaped hotel tower stretching 34 stories and containing 800 rooms were unveiled Monday morning during a news conference with Gov. Rick Scott. The tower is the feature attraction in the Seminole Tribe’s $1.8 billion expansion plans. The structure looks every bit a guitar in scale but doesn’t have a neck.

“We could have easily just built some rectangular building … but the tribe is once again trying to create something that is iconic, that creates international tourism coming to Florida,” said Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen. “We truly believe that that design alone will create additional tourism.”

The expansion plans, contingent on the Legislature’s approval of a deal brokered between the tribe and the governor, include the hotel tower and restaurants. The expansion is expected to bring nearly 20,000 jobs to Florida, the Seminoles said.

The hotel will increase the complex’s rooms to 1,273 and add five new restaurants, a buffet and nightclub at its complex on U.S. 441 north of Stirling Road, the Seminoles said.

Allen said the tribe is committed to rivaling Las Vegas and other casino destinations around the world. “We truly think this will rival not only anything in Florida, but Atlantis and anything in the world,” Allen said, pointing to an artist rendering on an easel depicting a pool space, as Scott sat in front of him.

The expansion includes spending almost $100 million on swimming pool space, Allen said. The plan adds a second pool and new pool bar. “Florida is about pools and the beaches and the ocean.”

He said that while the aim is to create a destination that will continue to attract crowds many years from now, the expansion doesn’t stretch far beyond the casino’s current footprint.

While Allen focused on the Hollywood expansion, he also discussed plans for the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, which will have new poker rooms, stores and restaurants.

The Tampa hotel and casino will also add a new tower with 500 hotel rooms and a live entertainment venue with up to 2,000 seats, Allen said.

For the more affluent gamblers, there will be a helipad.

Scott asked numerous questions during the presentation. His verdict at the end: “Impressive.”

Several business owners who work with the Seminole Tribe stood at a microphone and discussed how their businesses had been affected by the casinos.

Melissa Oceola Demeo, a flower shop owner who started working with the Seminoles in 2010, said her business has grown from five employees to more than 100 full-and part-time employees. She said she buys and installs over 35,000 flowers annually at the casino.

“It would be devastating” if the proposed deal doesn’t pass, she told Scott.

Hundreds of employees lined the entrance to the Seminole headquarters, greeting Scott with applause as he stepped out of an SUV. The governor spent about 10 minutes shaking hands before going inside.

From the onset, the emphasis was jobs.

“I grew up in a family that struggled for work, so I think jobs are very, very important,” Scott said. He then rehashed the numbers: 3,800 jobs lost if the gambling deal isn’t signed and 4,800 “direct and indirect” jobs created, outside of construction jobs, if it passes.

“I think this is the biggest compact ever signed in the country,” he said.

Allen acknowledged that the push for and against expansion is strong. “On any given day in Tallahassee, there are groups saying expand everywhere, and groups saying no expansion,” he said.

The gambling deal would bring $3 billion to the state over the next seven years. In return, the Seminoles would get the exclusive right to have roulette, craps and other table games in its seven casinos. The deal also caps the number of slots and tables casinos can have, but critics point out that the caps are so large they are essentially meaningless, including a 6,000-slot limit at any one casino.

The agreement also states that the Legislature can approve certain changes to the state’s pari-mutuel facilities that would not break the deal. These include new casinos in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, a limited amount of blackjack tables in pari-mutuels and even allowing the race tracks to stop racing and simply operate as casinos.

Legislative approval of the deal has been slow in coming. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee held a workshop to gather details of the agreement, during which it heard from both the Scott administration and Allen. But since then, no further action has been taken, and the committee’s next meeting, which takes place Tuesday, does not have the agreement on the agenda.

“I respect the Legislature, their opportunity to make a decision on this, we did our part … the tribe has done its part. Now it’s up to the House and Senate to make their decision,” Scott said Monday.