Hard Rock officials break ground on permanent hotel & casino

From left to right, Marc DeLeo, Randy Eads, Israel O’Quinn, Allie Evangelista, Jon Lucas, Jim McGlothlin, Clyde Stacy, Anthony Farnum, Jasen Eige and Martin Kent take part in last month’s groundbreaking ceremony for the permanent Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Bristol, Va.

By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor

The impact of the temporary Casino Bristol is already being felt in our region, and hopes are high that the permanent Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – which is scheduled to open in 2024 – will make an even bigger positive impact that will benefit our region for years to come.

Representatives from Hard Rock International were joined by elected officials and leaders from Bristol last month for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the beginning of construction on the permanent hotel and casino. The hotel will have 300 rooms, and amenities will include a spa, a gym and an indoor/outdoor pool area. New dining and entertainment options will highlight the permanent casino, which will provide a major uptick in the gaming department.

“From the very start, this property’s economic and community impact has surpassed expectations, and we are thrilled to unveil what’s coming next,” said Jon Lucas, COO of Hard Rock International. “We are especially grateful to our local partners, Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy, whose vision has made all this possible. Building on our momentum, and with the incredible support from the Virginia Lottery and the Bristol community, we are ready to begin the next chapter.”

While the permanent hotel and casino will offer a major upgrade over the temporary casino that opened last June, there have been some notable changes from the original design concept unveiled in the wake of the legislation and public referendum that paved the way for Hard Rock to build a casino in Bristol, Virginia.

The original model, which has been on display inside the temporary casino, included a pair of glass towers and an outdoor amphitheater designed to host larger concerts. When the new renderings were released at the groundbreaking ceremony last month, however, the design of the hotel had changed significantly and the outdoor concert venue was nowhere to be found.

The original design concept for the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol featured a pair of glass towers housing the hotel (left) with an outdoor performance venue (back).
The renderings released in December revealed a drastically different design for the hotel and did not include the outdoor performance venue.

When reached for comment, officials at Hard Rock said, “We continue to explore how best to incorporate outdoor live entertainment into the final design concept.”

Additionally, the indoor Hard Rock Live venue is slated to have 1,800 seats and a general admission capacity of approximately 2,000, down from the 3,200-seat performance venue that was included in the original plans.

Despite the changes, there is no debating the positive economic impact the temporary casino has had on the local economy and the potential boost the permanent hotel and casino may provide.

The original concept for the outdoor performance venue was released on Sept. 14, 2020. The outdoor venue was supposed to have a capacity of 20,000. Hard Rock officials said they plan to “continue exploring how best to incorporate outdoor live entertainment into the final design concept.”

During last month’s event, President of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol Allie Evangelista noted that the temporary casino had already generated $12 million in gaming tax revenue for the state of Virginia with $4 million of that staying in Bristol and the other communities in Southwest Virginia that receive a share of those funds. She added that more than 600,000 people have visited the temporary casino.

In terms of workforce development, Evangelista said the temporary casino has been like “starting from scratch” as hundreds of workers have received their first experience in the gaming industry, which is new to our area. “We’re learning together as a family,” she said, adding that many employees are already discovering opportunities for career advancement at the Bristol Casino.

Several local higher education institutions are betting on the casino to provide wider career paths in the hospitality industry. ETSU’s Office of Professional Development and the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association (NeTTA) have partnered on a Hospitality & Tourism Certificate program.

Fifty individuals have already graduated from the program, which is designed to prepare them for entry or advanced promotion into a wide range of management positions in culinary, food & beverage, lodging, attraction and tourism-related industries. The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is also bolstering its course offerings with an eye on preparing students for the increasing opportunities in the tourism sector that are emerging in and around the casino in Bristol.

With construction commencing on the permanent hotel and casino, 900 to 1,000 construction-specific jobs will be created as TN Ward and BurWil Construction start work on the massive 300,000-square-foot facility. When the permanent location opens in 2024, it will create 1,200 full-time and part-time jobs.

Officials with Hard Rock say they are currently on target to have construction on the permanent hotel and casino finished by 2024.

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