Hard Rock International has moved one step closer toward building its proposed $275 million casino hotel on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
New Jersey's first boutique casino will be built in two phases: It will open as a 54,800-square-foot gaming hall with a 208-room hotel and 2,400-space garage, then eventually add 27,500 square feet, 642 rooms, and 600 parking spaces.
That's according to documents contained within a 4-inch-thick binder, accompanied by a 5-inch-thick collection of renderings, submitted late Friday by AC Gateway L.L.C. - owner of the land, at the Boardwalk's southern end - to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for CAFRA approvals.
A Coastal Area Facility Review Act permit and a waterfront-development permit are among the first a developer must obtain to build along the New Jersey coast.
"It means they are seeking environmental permits to build their project," DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said Wednesday as he showed off in Trenton the heavy binder filled with hundreds of pages of environmental-impact studies, including analyses of geology, fish and wildlife, soil, air quality, storm water, and traffic.
The casino drawings were folded into standard letter size. But when viewed at their full size, 5 feet by 3 feet, they occupied most of a desk.
The Inquirer first reported Hard Rock's anticipated filing for CAFRA approvals May 26. At that time, Hard Rock had declined to comment or confirm that it was submitting the CAFRA application.
In March 2010, Hard Rock, based in Orlando, and Och-Ziff Real Estate of New York, managing partner of AC Gateway, announced that they would "explore" developing a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. But they made it clear that moving forward depended on state legislation permitting smaller boutique casino hotels in Atlantic City.
On Jan. 5, Gov. Christie signed that bill into law, opening the door for a casino hotel with as few as 200 rooms instead of the 500 that had been mandated by the Casino Control Act since New Jersey legalized gambling in 1976.
The Hard Rock, the first of two boutique casino hotels allowed under the new law, will sit next to the Atlantic City Hilton, bordered by the Boardwalk and Ventnor, Albany, and Hartford Avenues.
After both phases are built, the project will include a Hard Rock Cafe, a 7,185-square-foot spa, a fitness and recreation area with an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool terrace.
AC Gateway wrote a check for $56,500 to cover the CAFRA application fees.
"The first step will be an administrative-completeness review . . . followed by a technical review," Hajna said.
For those whose livelihoods center on Atlantic City, Hard Rock's move to enter the struggling market is a huge lift.
"The recent activity in the Atlantic City gaming market signals that investors feel there is an opportunity to earn a return on investment in excess of their cost of capital," said gaming analyst Cory Morowitz of Morowitz Gaming Advisors L.L.C. in Galloway Township, N.J. "The introduction of new capital investment . . . will have a positive impact on the city and will likely grow revenues from all sources, including both gaming and non-gaming."
He added: "The infusion of new capital into the city, combined with the new entertainment and tourism district, should be a catalyst for the transformation of Atlantic City from a pure gaming market to a multifaceted entertainment destination."