Hard Rock International is celebrating its 50th anniversary in style, in May opening a ground-up US$400 million-plus flagship development near Times Square in New York City and boasting a pipeline of 30-plus signed hotel deals that are either under construction or with financing 90% in place.
“We’re very optimistic about the deal flow,” Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told HOTELS in mid-May. “There’s probably another 80 to 90 hotel opportunities out there, but they’re not what I would refer as greater than 80% to 90% certainty that they will be completed.”
Owned by parent entity The Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Hard Rock brand has venues in 68 countries spanning some 253 locations that include owned/licensed or managed hotels, casinos, Rock Shops, live performance venues and cafes. There are some 27 hotels and nine hotel and casino locations around the world.
With a pipeline that also extends to conversion opportunities in cities like Kansas City and Memphis after more recently opening conversions in Budapest and Madrid, Allen and his team are focused on stabilizing the leased, 446-room New York hotel located on Music Row, which pays homage to the recording studios and music stores that once lined 48th Street.
While Manhattan has been slower to rebound from COVID than other less restrictive markets, Allen is quick to remind that New York City is not going away anytime soon. “We are very optimistic about the long-term success of this location, and obviously, the Hard Rock brand,” he said. “We’ve looked at dozens of locations over the last 10 years. When this location became available to our partnership with Extell Development’s Gary Barnett we were very excited about its proximity to so many unbelievable destinations and attractions.”
This summer should start to show some upside for New York property as it focuses on its core elements, music and entertainment, as well as capitalizes on a rooftop venue. What would really help move the needle is better inbound international travel, but Allen sees that as a year or two off. “But, when you look at the quality of the rooms, the size of the rooms, and the meeting space, we definitely believe that becomes part of the business opportunity for meeting in group business – and frankly, really good business social,” Allen continued.
As Allen manages the rebound from COVID and works with the tribal council to strategically use capital in a way that makes sure there is a longer-term plan to protect the livelihood and sovereignty of the tribes, there is another slowly developing hotel opportunity – the limited-service Reverb hotel brand. It was first launched in 2017 and then ran into legal challenges before reaching a settlement.
Allen said everyone loves the Reverb concept and deals are in place for 10 to 20 projects, adding there is one potential deal for some 100 Reverbs over a number of years in a specific but unnamed country. “I’m still watching it… I think it is very cool concept in the select-service category… I just think it still needs to grow and find its uniqueness in this space.”
More personally, Allen, who over his 40-year career has worked with the Trump Organization, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hemmeter Companies, Park Place Entertainment and Sun International Resorts, sayid he would like to see the United States find a pathway to get back a little closer to “the middle of the conversation about life, and obviously that ties into business.”
He added that conversations about topics like diversity, where he says Hard Rock has an excellent track record, are extremely important. “The more we can find the ability to talk in the center then, frankly, there is more compassion to deal with some of these issues that have been neglected in the past and some people find troublesome.”
In the meantime, Allen said the reward becomes the teams enjoying the success and benefiting the 4,400 members of the Seminole Tribe. “I universally say, ‘I don’t golf, I don’t hunt, I don’t fish.’ I don’t have any hobbies other than working and being involved in these incredibly exciting destinations that we create.”