Tropicana Casino Plans Non-gaming Expansion The A.c. Project Includes Convention, Conference, Retail, Restaurant And Entertainment Facilities.

Posted: February 02, 2001

ATLANTIC CITY — Not to be outdone by Las Vegas rivals who are coming to town, the Tropicana Casino and Resort is planning a $225 million expansion that includes a 502-room convention tower, a conference center and an elaborate retail, restaurant and entertainment complex.

"There is a large and unfilled demand for - quote - more things to do other than gamble in Atlantic City," said Paul Rubeli, chairman of the Aztar Corp., which owns the Tropicana. "Las Vegas has proven that our customers in the gaming industry want to do more than just gamble."

The centerpiece of the expansion will be the enclosed dining and entertainment complex, which is being designed to resemble the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, with shops on multilevels under a curved blue sky ceiling with white clouds.

"The name of the new complex will be The Quarter, to convey the notion of it becoming the fun sector of Atlantic City, reminiscent of the Latin Quarter, the French Quarter and other similar fun quarters of cities around the world," Rubeli said.

The casino also will increase its slot-machine capacity by about 20 percent, to more than 4,600 machines. It will increase parking by 65 percent with a new 2,400-space garage. The room capacity will grow to 2,126 with the new tower, which will include rooms specially designed and equipped for business travelers.

Rubeli said he expected to begin construction by the end of this year, and complete the project by the end of 2003, about the same time the $1 billion Borgata, a mega casino resort being built by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Co., opens in the marina section. MGM Mirage of Las Vegas also has announced plans to build a large-scale hotel complex in the city's marina section.

Rubeli said he hoped the Tropicana's plans would trigger other developers to bring non-casino attractions to town and appeal to cash-paying overnight guests, rather than simply giving away the bulk of rooms to long-time casino players.

The project is being developed by three firms: MRA International of Philadelphia, consultants on urban entertainment concepts; King of Prussia Mall developer Kravco Co.; and the architecture firm of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo of Newport Beach, Calif., designers of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and the Grand Floridian at Disney World.

Rubeli said he hoped to bring in 50 new tenants, including well-known restaurant chains and "cutting edge regional restaurants" from New York and Philadelphia, and high-profile nightclub, entertainment and retail tenants.

The expansion will be located on Tropicana's 3 1/2-acre lot on Pacific Avenue, between Iowa and Brighton Avenues.

Rubeli said the decision to go ahead with the expansion was based in large part on a new sales tax incentive rebate program proposed two weeks ago by Sen. William Gormley (R., Atlantic) to spur just such a retail and entertainment project.

Rubeli said he believed that Atlantic City has "a very large untapped potential" to become "the overnight regional getaway of choice."

"The city is the center of the largest regional concentration of adults in the U.S.," he said.

Amy Rosenberg's e-mail address is arosenberg@phillynews.com.

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