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St.Petersburg Times-Seminole Casino

St. Petersburg Times
Tuesday, January 9, 2001

Hard Rock, Seminoles plan two casinos

At a ceremony featuring 500 guests and a 15-foot-long guitar sand sculpture, officials of Hard Rock Cafe International and the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Monday announced a $400-million plan to build casino-hotels in Hollywood and Tampa.

The Hard Rock Cafe, which already operates a 350-room hotel- casino in Las Vegas, believes Vegas-style gambling may one day be available at its new Florida facilities, thanks to its partnership with the 2,500-member Seminole Tribe.

"The Seminole Tribe has done a terrific job in Florida with its gaming facilities," said Jim Biggar, Hard Rock Cafe's senior director of hotels. "I think it's going to be a great partnership.

"We're hoping in the future that Class III games (Las Vegas-type gambling) will be possible."

The tribe currently offers only small-stakes poker, high-stakes bingo and electronic slot machines at its casinos in Hollywood, Coconut Creek, Immokalee, Brighton and Tampa.

Gov. Jeb Bush, following the sentiment behind three failed casino referenda, has opposed any compact allowing the Seminoles to offer Class III games such as roulette and blackjack.

The Seminoles are betting that new rules from the U.S. Department of Interior will allow Class III games anywhere on reservation lands, including inside the proposed 750-room Hard Rock Cafe Hotel-casino on U.S. 441 in Hollywood and the planned 200-room Hard Rock Cafe hotel off Orient Road in Hillsborough County.

Hard Rock Cafe, purveyor of American cuisine and non-stop rock music in its 105 restaurants worldwide, broke ground on the Hollywood facility Monday morning and expects to finish the Broward and Hillsborough projects in the last quarter of 2002.

In Hollywood, the project will include the hotel, casino, a 1,000- seat venue for live music, a health spa, an independent restaurant, a beach club with an extensive bar and a Hard Rock Cafe retail store.

On the Seminoles' Tampa reservation, the Sheraton Four Points Hotel - and ultimately, the existing casino - will be demolished to make way for the hotel, a new gambling facility, a large pool with pool bar, a parking facility and a 24-hour restaurant.

The projects will be undertaken by the Cordish Co., a Maryland firm responsible for much of the waterfront redevelopment in Baltimore. The company also has specialized in casino area redevelopment, including a $200-million retail and entertainment project in Atlantic City and a contract to revitalize a 32-block area in downtown Reno, Nev.

The Hard Rock Cafe groundbreaking in Broward County on Monday took place on a 60-acre site known until a few weeks ago as the Candlelight Mobile Home Park. Last year, the tribe evicted about 200 permanent residents on notice ranging from 30 to 45 days.

Because Florida law normally requires a year's notice, the tribe's eviction action brought a lawsuit seeking $5-million in damages. The suit is still pending. In fact, Candlelight attorney Louis St. Laurent, rebuffed at attempting to serve Seminole Chairman James Billie previously, sent a process server to the groundbreaking to try to serve Billie with the suit Monday.

The process server was kept out, but later managed to serve the suit on Tribal Attorney Jim Shore, St. Laurent said.

"I think what they did to these residents - they ought to be charged with criminal fraud," St. Laurent said Monday. "Some of these people, the elderly and the ill, didn't really have the means to get to another place."

Calls to tribal administrators were not returned Monday.

The tribe was less successful in forcing the owners of the property used by the First Seminole Indian Baptist Church to sell and make way for the Hollywood casino-hotel project. The North American Mission Board, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, owns the 27- acre church site and refused to sell, especially if the site were to be used for gambling.

Monday evening, Mission Board officials were surprised to learn of the Hard Rock Cafe groundbreaking, but said their stance had not changed. "We told the tribe the property is not for sale," said Martin King, director of public relations for the Mission Board. "The property is still not for sale."