Here’s one story even Hollywood would not have written: Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland, featured in the homespun holiday movie A Christmas Story, is now the site of Ohio’s first casino.
The Horseshoe Casino, which opened May 14, marks the first collaboration between Caesars Entertainment and Rock Gaming (Rock Ohio Caesars LLC or ROC). Dan Gilbert, chairman of Rock Gaming, is also majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, and chairman and founder of Quicken Loans Inc.
Phase I of the project is located on the first four floors of the 12-story building on Public Square in Cleveland, now in the midst of a revival. Since 1976, the landmark department store has been part of the National Register of Historic Places.
The casino design team, led by Rock Gaming’s Nathan Forbes and Jeffrey Cohen, approached the reconstruction with respect for the property’s heritage, and were “passionate about preserving and enhancing the original neoclassical and Art Deco style of this building inside and out,” says Forbes. “From Higbee’s entrances to its interior structural and decorative details, we challenged ourselves to maintain the timeless features of the building while completely reinventing its use.”
Adds Cohen, “Transitioning Higbee into Horseshoe Casino ironically brought the building closer to its original architecture and design,” as original details were restored and long-lost elements brought back.
For example, decorative plaster details on columns and ceiling beams were restored and windows long covered were once again exposed. Some full-length windows were draped with translucent sheers to give outsiders a glimpse of the casino and insiders a hint of natural light and views of the city.
ROC invested more than $350 million in the urban casino project. Nearly 300,000 square feet of space was transformed into premiere gaming and dining space with 2,100 slot machines, 63 table games and a 30-table World Series of Poker room, which officials hope will host a WSOP tournament in 2013. There is also a VIP players lounge, a buffet restaurant and food court. The casino has two bars, Vintage 51 on the first floor, and Legends at Horseshoe on the second level.
The design team revived the exterior by illuminating the building’s 12-story facade to highlight limestone cornices and details. New signage was added along with branded awnings and flags. Higbee’s original brass railings and brass filigree-framed display windows and revolving entryways have been restored for the anticipated 5 million guests the casino expects to attract annually.
Inside, original railings and grand vestibules have also been restored, including the original ornate floor-to-ceiling columns, which stand nearly 22 feet tall. Massive crystal chandeliers recall the grandeur of Higbee’s original light fixtures.
The casino floors were reinforced to support heavy gaming equipment; heating and cooling systems were expanded; and the entire structure was outfitted with the latest communication technologies. Raised floors were installed to route and protect miles of data and power cables under the gaming floor. Kitchens in both the 400-seat buffet restaurant and food court were fitted with up-to-date culinary equipment. A five-story dedicated parking structure with 1,300 spaces was added; the valet area has a temperature-controlled brick driveway.
ROC also plans to develop a Phase II overlooking the Cuyahoga River, and also create the Buckeye State’s second Horseshoe casino, in Cincinnati in 2013.
OWNER: Rock Ohio Caesars
LEAD ARCHITECT: Friedmutter Group, Las Vegas
PROJECT ARCHITECTS: KA Architecture Inc., Robert P. Madison International
LOCAL CONSTRUCTION PARTNERS: Whiting-Turner, Price Builders + Developers, McTech, URS Corporation and Thorson Baker and Associated.
CONSTRUCTION COST (casino and parking areas): $124 million
TOTAL INVESTMENT: $350 million