Golden Transformation

The rebirth of an aging Atlantic City casino

The $150 million renovation of the former Trump Marina and Hotel in Atlantic City has added new luster to the city’s waterfront—the luster of gold.
   
“The crowds are good, and the people here are enjoying all the improvements we’ve made,” says Jeff Cantwell, senior vice president of development for Landry’s, the Houston-based hospitality company that bought the Marina in 2011, and in less than a year transformed it into the new Golden Nugget.
   
As one of Trump’s lesser Atlantic City properties, the Marina suffered years of benign neglect. After Trump Entertainment declared bankruptcy, Landry’s acquired the complex for just $38 million (at the top of the market, the price tag was considerably higher, at $234 million).
   
Landry’s team of in-house designers and architects went to work on the dilapidated property along with David Solner, principal with Cuningham Group Architecture of Minneapolis. The design template was already in place: the new Golden Nugget would recall the flagship location in Las Vegas and a second property in Laughlin, Nevada.
   
“It was really just taking an old and outdated property, bringing it into the 21st century and making it more engaging,” says Cantwell. “People used to liken this building to a hospital.”
   
The exterior’s masonry tiles and spandrel glass were covered with eye-catching gold-tone stucco, and a spectacular animated LED sign now covers the side of the building that faces the highway. Inside, ’70-era décor like brass and mirrors was ripped out and replaced with mirror-polish stainless steel appointments, decorative lighting and back-lit acrylic finishes to add light and energy to the space.
   
The most surprising change may have been in the atrium, which once was dominated by outdated mauve marble. “Instead of ripping it out, we applied a 3M peel-and-stick vinyl finish” in sophisticated black and brown that both fools and pleases the eye. “It’s an illusion,” says Cantwell, “but nobody can tell. But anything guests can touch—stone tops and counters, light fixtures—is a big expense, and you get the best quality possible. All the gaming chairs were reupholstered, because all that can be seen and touched.”
   
Landry’s CEO Tillman Fertitta looked for economical solutions wherever he could find them. “There’s a value-engineering mentality at Landry’s,” says Cantwell. That approach was reflected in the room redesigns, which cost $25,000 per key, as opposed to renovations at the nearby Borgata, which cost $50,000 per key.
   
“But we touched every single finish in the rooms and gutted the bathrooms,” says Cantwell, adding contemporary vanities, light fixtures and glass shower doors.
   
The ambiance in the hotel rooms says ‘home’ rather than ‘hotel,’” he adds. “There’s a nice sofa area, not chairs with a table in the middle, because people don’t stay in to dine very often.”
   
The porte-cochere has been transformed from grim to glowing with a bank of shimmering gold overhead lights. And one of the Nugget’s chief attractions—that beautiful marina—has been thoroughly refreshed with new awnings, carpet, paint, finishes and wall coverings. “We needed to put some capital dollars there,” Cantwell says.
   
One welcoming venue, and a vast improvement over its fusty predecessor, is Vic & Anthony’s steakhouse. Designers achieved “an Art Deco, masculine, Rat Pack-y flair” with fine wood and marble finishes. A clunky millwork wine cellar has been replaced with one of skeletal steel for a modern twist.
   
Ongoing ease of maintenance—one way to save money over the life of a renovation—was top of mind during the 10-month overhaul. “We don’t build for the operator and turn it over—we are the operator,” says Cantwell. “When you look down low, you’ll see real wood and stainless steel. Up high it’s vinyl and veneer.”
   
The once-threadbare casino and hotel, “a second- or third-tier property” in Cantwell’s view, is now “first class. It’s a nice building, and the physical plant was in good condition. It was a good canvas. It just needed to be finished.”

Articles by Author: Marjorie Preston

Marjorie Preston is a contributing editor of Global Gaming Business magazine and managing editor of Casino Connection Atlantic City.