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New York City hotel becomes newest chapter in Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock success story

The traditional Hard Rock guitar smash celebrates the grand opening of Hard Rock Hotel New York on May 12. From left to right are Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, emcee Kenan Thompson, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., President Mitchell Cypress, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola and actress Vanessa Hudgens. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

NEW YORK CITY — The grand opening of the 36-story Hard Rock Hotel New York in the heart of Midtown Manhattan marked a return for the Seminole Tribe to the city where its ownership of the global brand began.

Since acquiring Hard Rock International nearly 16 years ago – when tribal members stood on the outdoor balcony of the nearby Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square to celebrate the announcement – the tribe and its 4,000-plus members have benefitted from owning an entity whose venues have nearly doubled throughout the world.

“Hard Rock gave us world recognition and the ability to create a presence in a space where Native Americans didn’t have a presence,” Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. said at the hotel’s opening May 12. “We said this can be done. We aren’t the example, we are the proof.”

When the tribe purchased Hard Rock, it was a successful brand with 124 cafes, four hotels, two casinos and two Hard Rock Live venues in 45 countries. Under the leadership of the tribe and Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen, the brand’s growth – now up to 253 locations that include performance venues, cafes, 26 hotels and nine hotel-casinos in 68 countries – has helped the tribe support and expand its own infrastructure and services, including education, health care and housing.

“Because of Hard Rock, we’ve made a lot of improvement and can give benefits to the tribe,” President Mitchell Cypress said. “We have more programs and housing. The younger generation has a better chance of getting an education and coming back to help the tribe. I never had that opportunity growing up in Big Cypress, but I’m proud I helped pave the way for the younger generation.”

“It’s made us fully independent,” said Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola. “We can afford to give tribal members everything they need; health care, education and more. It gives us the financial ability to build the future of the tribe.”

Chairman Osceola, President Cypress, Councilman Osceola and Allen participated in Hard Rock’s traditional guitar smash alongside Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie and actress Vanessa Hudgens.

Joel Frank Sr., a former president of the National Indian Gaming Association and United South and Eastern Tribes Inc., was among a handful of the Seminoles in the audience.

“Things like this were only a dream when we first starting talking about it in 1969,” Frank said. “We were sitting around a campfire talking about getting gaming revenues for the tribe so we could live comfortably. At the time, we were in the hole to the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and federal programs. We said we can do this; eventually we did and we’re here today.”

Stars come out for grand opening

Before the guitar smash, S.R. Tommie gave a traditional Seminole blessing and addressed the crowd.

“We are people from the Everglades and we give to the earth because the earth gives to us,” Tommie said. “We live our culture, heritage and traditions daily. To be in New York City means you have arrived. I want to acknowledge [former Hollywood Councilman] Max Osceola, his spirit is with us today. He knew one day we would expand our spirit to New York.”

When the tribe announced the purchase of Hard Rock at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square on Dec. 7, 2006, Max Osceola famously said, “Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets. We’re going to buy Manhattan back, one hamburger at a time.”

The 446-room hotel is located at 159 48th Street, near Rockefeller Center and just a few blocks from the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. It features NYY Steak and Sessions restaurants and a Rock Shop.

The opening featured a high-energy party that began with a star-studded red carpet and continued into the wee hours with DJs. Emcee Kenan Thompson of “Saturday Night Live” entertained the audience at The Venue on Music Row, an intimate club in the hotel with a capacity of 500. The evening’s performances were by some of the most recognizable names in entertainment, including John Legend, DJ Cassidy, Nas, Busta Rhymes and Fat Joe.

RT60, a roof-top bar and terrace which Allen believes can become a hot spot on the city scene, has two outdoor spaces and an inside bar with ample booths along with a private room and a DJ booth. The celebration continued on the roof with guests that included New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who chatted with Chairman Osceola and others.

From left to right are S.R. Tommie, Gina Osceola, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Kyle Doney and Thomasine Motlow in the NYY Steak restaurant at Hard Rock Hotel New York. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From left to right, former Miami Dolphin wide receiver Nat Moore, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., CEO of Hard Rock Japan Ed Tracy, and Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming Jim Allen tour the outdoor terrace of the Rock Star Suite, a glass-enclosed penthouse with a generously sized living room, bedroom and expansive city views. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From left to right, David Cypress, President Mitchell Cypress and Charley Cypress attend the grand opening of the Hard Rock Hotel New York. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, left, and Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. at the grand opening. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
“Saturday Night Live’s” Kenan Thompson was among the stars from the entertainment industry who attended the Hard Rock Hotel New York grand opening. Thompson was the emcee at The Venue on Music Row. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Singer-songwriter John Legend was among the stars from the entertainment industry who attended the Hard Rock Hotel New York grand opening. Legend performed at The Venue on Music Row. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
The Venue on Music Row is a multilevel, versatile entertainment event space. (Courtesy Hard Rock)
A view of the bathroom in the Rock Star Suite. (Courtesy Hard Rock)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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