Trump's Castle Slips Into A New Name - The Marina

Posted: June 26, 1997

ATLANTIC CITY — This town's king of casinos is renaming his Castle.

Donald J. Trump yesterday announced what Ingrid, the slender-thighed blond model with the electric guitar, has been promising for weeks on billboards on the way in and out of this gaming resort.

Trump's Castle will become Trump Marina Hotel Casino, effective tomorrow, as part of a $5 million makeover aimed at breathing new life, as in better revenues, and newer life, as in a hipper clientele, into what has been Trump's only disappointing casino in Atlantic City.

``We think people are just going to be flocking here,'' a typically self-confident Trump told reporters.

Dressed appropriately in a nautical blue suit, Trump revealed the Castle-to-Marina conversion strategy against a backdrop that he says he has always considered the Castle's greatest asset - the 640-slip Sen. Frank S. Farley State Marina adjacent to the casino hotel. The problem, he said, is that the Castle name and motif never fit the setting.

``I never liked the name ``Castle,'' because this was never a castle,'' Trump said, referring to the modern looking mustard-color brick casino hotel that shares the marina district with only one other casino, Harrah's Atlantic City. Harrah's has recently undergone a massive redesign to add an oceanic theme throughout its hotel and casino.

Nicholas L. Ribis, chief executive officer of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., said the change at the Castle is ``more than a retheming. It's really changing the business environment, the customer base of the building.''

That is not to say the Castle - er, Marina - wants fewer of the 50 and over crowd that have traditionally been Atlantic City casinos' biggest draw, Ribis was quick to add.

``What we're trying to do is broaden our customer base,'' he said, to ``a younger thinking customer.''

Hence Ingrid on the billboards. And more outdoor rock-and-roll concert entertainment around the marina.

Inside, gone are the knights in armor. Palm trees stand where they once did. The mural behind the check-in desk is of international port scenes. The music playing throughout has changed too. With more rock tunes from the '70s and '80s.

Trump blamed ``time and legal circumstances'' on why it has taken him so long to jettison a name and look he did not like. Trump's Castle opened 12 years ago as Atlantic City's 11th gaming hall, two months after its builder, Hilton Hotels Corp., sold the property to Trump for $320 million. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission had denied Hilton a casino license because of past business connections with a lawyer who maintained alleged organized-crime associations.

``It's going to be a tremendous success,'' Trump declared at the Castle's grand opening on June 17, 1985.

It hasn't been. Last year, it finished, like other years, among the lowest revenue producers of Atlantic City's dozen casinos and the lowest of the three Trump casinos. It reported losses of $40.3 million. The Castle reported improvements for the first three months of this year.

Last November, Trump sold the property to the publicly owned Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. for $490 million, a price stockholders and market analysts considered inflated. Around that time, Trump was involved in negotiations with the Rank Organisation PLC to try to revive the Castle - and attract a younger group of gamblers - by re-creating it as Hard Rock Hotel. Those talks abruptly ended in December.

Help seemed on the way in January when the Castle announced it would undergo a $125 million face-lift financed by the money a West Coast real estate investment trust, Colony Capital Inc., would pay for a 51 percent stake in the property. That deal was mutually called off in March. So was a 1,500-room hotel tower expansion project.

Trump nixed that - and an 800-room addition planned for the Taj Mahal Casino Resort - as a sign of his protest of the $330 million state-funded tunnel project in Atlantic City that would link the Atlantic City Expressway to the Marina District.

Trump said yesterday that those projects will remain on hold until he sees ``whether or not the state and the city gets smart'' about the tunnel project, which Atlantic City's Mayor James Whelan and Gov. Whitman support. He also used the occasion to float rumors that bids for the controversial project are ``coming in at $500 million.'' Trump suggested the deadline for bid submissions has been pushed off twice, now to July 8, because the state is too embarrassed to admit that the project is going to cost more than anticipated.

Whitman has pledged to pay $220 million from public coffers - and not a cent more - for the tunnel project that would bring Trump rival Steve Wynn back to Atlantic City along with his plan to build a $750 million mega casino resort in the Marina District. Wynn has said he would not pay more than $110 million of the tunnel's price tag. Whether contractors would be willing to absorb any cost overruns is a big unknown.

Yesterday, a representative from Perini Corp. in Framingham, Mass., which is considering bidding on the tunnel project, said it was too early to tell whether $330 million is a reasonable price for what he said is a ``lot of work.''

``But $500 million?'' said Mike McKimmey, vice president of business development at Perini. ``That's the first I've heard that number.''

Meanwhile, back at the Marina, Mary Smith, 60, of Ridley Park, looked on with disgust as employees replaced a black-and-gold Trump's Castle sign with a snappy new navy blue-and-white Trump Marina version.

``I used to love the Castle,'' she snapped. ``I don't like this rock-and-roll nonsense. I can't stand the music.''

Oh, but Darleen Reilly does. She's 27 and was making her first visit to the casino yesterday. She had just left a boutique and was heading for the casino singing along to an early '80s rock tune by Loverboy, ``Loving Every Minute of It'' that was playing throughout the hotel.

``Upbeat music will keep you alive,'' she said. ``I'll come back.''

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