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Tribal leaders thank Tampa community for sacrifices; Massive Hard Rock expansion to be completed summer 2019

TAMPA — Last summer the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood celebrated a construction milestone, raising a ceremonial final beam at the site of its massive 450-foot guitar-shaped hotel to be completed in late 2019. A few months later it was Tampa’s turn.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa held its own “topping out” event Dec. 11 at the property located off I-4 at North Orient Road and Hillsborough Avenue, about 10 minutes east of downtown.

“Today is what we refer to as a topping out ceremony, but it’s really a thank you to the thousands of construction workers,” said Jim Allen, the Chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming.

Before the ceremonial final beam was raised at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino topping out ceremony Dec. 11, a countdown ensued and Tribal leaders and Hard Rock executives were given air horns to help mark the occasion. From left to right are Hollywood Councilman Christopher Osceola, Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, Seminole medicine man Bobby Henry, head of the Hard Rock design team Dave Miller, longtime Seminole employee John Fontana (retired), Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. (Photo Damon Scott)

Tampa’s renovation is expected to be completed in the summer of 2019.

“The Hard Rock Tampa is the most successful casino in the United States and fourth [most successful] in the world,” Allen said. “And that’s not an exaggeration, those numbers are factually based.”

The beam is hoisted to the top of the framework of the new hotel tower that is in the midst of construction. Attached to the beam was a small tree (part of a Scandinavian ritual) and the flags of the Tribe, state of Florida and U.S. (Photo Damon Scott)

Allen not only thanked construction workers but also the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“I think it’d be a real mistake not to thank the Chairman and Tribal Council and the members of the Tribe,” he said. “Because frankly it’s their decision to take our recommendations from a business standpoint and approve the funding and all the processes.”

Allen said the funding is immense – a more than $700 million commitment from the Tribe for Hard Rock Tampa renovations alone. When including Hard Rock Hollywood and other projects, he said investments are around $2.2 billion in Florida. The Seminole Tribe employs about 44,000 people worldwide, Allen said.

Nod to Tampa Tribal members

Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. thanked the construction workers for their “true dedication, diligence and effort to succeed.”

“We’re truly blessed to be here today at this gathering,” he said. “The Tribe has been blessed for many, many years and will be for many, many years to come.”

Other Tribal leaders at the event echoed Chairman Osceola’s sentiments about the construction workers’ efforts and also noted the sacrifices of the Tampa community, who once lived on the site where the casino is now located.

“You Tampa folk, you Seminole folk who once lived on this piece of land, we appreciate your sacrifice that you made for your Tribe so that this building could go up and [we could] keep building,” Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. said. “We’re on the way to find you a place to live. Thank you for the sacrifice for your Tribe.”

At far right, Seminole medicine man Bobby Henry sits in the front row for the ceremony. Adjacent to him in the front row are Seminole Tribe leaders including Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. and Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. (Photo Damon Scott)

The Tampa community will soon have living options east of the city near Lakeland, where development is in the early stages for a residential neighborhood.

“Thank you to the Tampa community for the sacrifice for your Tribe,” Hollywood Councilman Christopher Osceola said. “We’re seeing those blessings today across the board here. None of this would be possible without the sacrifices the Tampa community and Seminole Tribe has made.”

Among the other dignitaries who were brought to the stage was John Fontana, one of the longest serving employees of the Tribe who recently retired after almost 40 years. Fontana is known as someone who was instrumental in development of the Hard Rock Tampa.

“He’s truly a legend, not just working for the Tribe and at the old bingo hall, [but] at the origination of the Hard Rock. He’s a main staple in the community,” Allen said when introducing Fontana.

Fontana said he first met members of the Tribe when he was 12 or 13 years old. “It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “Tampa is my baby.”

The new president of Hard Rock Tampa was also at the event – Steve Bonner. Bonner recently moved to Tampa and has worked for the Tribe for the past 16 years, most recently at as the president of Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.

One of America’s largest casinos

The crowd then gathered to witness the tradition of the final steel beam hoisted to one of the high points of the property – in this case atop the new 15-story hotel tower which will house an additional 564 rooms and suites when completed.

Joining the beam were the flags of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the state of Florida and the American flag. There was also a small tree, part of an ancient Scandinavian ritual.

The beam itself contained signatures and messages of Tribal members from Brighton, Immokalee, Big Cypress and Hollywood, where it had traveled for about a month. Construction workers were also given the chance to sign it.

Hundreds of construction workers with hardhats and orange and fluorescent green uniforms gather at the site of the topping out ceremony before the final beam is raised. The crane used to hoist the final beam can be seen in the background. (Photo Damon Scott)

Officials say once the Hard Rock Tampa’s expansion is complete it will be one of America’s largest casinos with 5,000 slot machines and almost 200 gaming tables among 200,000 square feet of entertainment and gaming space.

The job numbers are also impressive. Economic analysts expect the two-year expansion project to create more than 6,000 additional casino and construction jobs both permanent and temporary.

Hard Rock Tampa is already one of the largest employers in Tampa Bay with more than 3,500 employees.

Hotel amenities

The centerpiece of the expansion is the hotel tower. The property will have 800 guestrooms and 88 suites once completed.
The top floor of the tower will feature a private gaming parlor for VIP guests and private check in and elevators to “rock star” suites.

Guests will have access to three new outdoor swimming pools adjacent to the second level of the tower that will feature a 120-seat Pool Grille restaurant and bar.

The expanded pool and deck area will measure the size of a football field.

A new 25,000 square foot Rock Spa & Salon will open on the second level of the tower and will offer pool-side services.

There will be a new 200-seat Italian restaurant, adding to the lineup of Council Oak Steaks & Seafood and The Rez Grill.

Additional renovations and updates are planned for the Hard Rock Cafe, Fresh Harvest Buffet, Plum VIP lounge and the food court. Rise Kitchen & Bakery will be redesigned and relocated as part of the casino expansion project, too.

Six additional retail shops will join two existing retail outlets for shopping options and an additional 700 parking spaces will increase the total number spaces to about 6,000.

No Hard Rock property would be complete without music. A 30,000 square foot Seminole Hard Rock Event Center is under construction on the second level of the casino complex. It includes a 17,000 square foot grand ballroom for concerts, conventions, trade shows, private events and large-scale poker tournaments.

Hard Rock International operates venues in 74 countries, including 183 cafes, 27 hotels and 12 casinos. The company owns, operates and franchises cafes in cities across the U.S. and internationally. HRI also owns, licenses and/or manages hotel/casino properties across the globe.

New Hard Rock hotel, casino or hotel and casino projects are slated for 2019 and beyond in Berlin, Budapest, Dublin, London, Los Cabos, Madrid, New York City, Ottawa and Sacramento, among other locations.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at

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