The worldwide leader in Rock 'n' Roll-themed entertainment destinations will be coming to the home of Rock 'n' Roll itself one more time. Hard Rock International, which boasts some 172 properties in 53 countries, including one in downtown Cleveland, has partnered with Northfield Park, one of harness racing's most popular nationwide products, to create an ambitious video lottery terminal and entertainment complex, in a press conference announcement on Wednesday (April 18).
The track is located outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where the term "Rock ‘n' Roll" was coined in 1951. Five years later, the track opened for business. It was purchased in 1972 by Carl Milstein, whose son, Brock, was on hand to announce the partnership with Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International.
The proposed $275 million project, which will bring 1,000 construction jobs as well as 1,000 permanent jobs to Northeast Ohio, will be a structure separate from the existing grandstand and racetrack. It will be built southeast of the grandstand, along the track's first turn. Amenities will include space for 2,500 VLTs, a Hard Rock Café restaurant, and "Hard Rock Live," an auditorium that could host some 150 musical acts per year.
"We are trying to create a true entertainment destination that will be a complement to the success that the Millstein family has had here at Northfield Park," said Allen.
The press conference was a public event, with a special performance by Art Alexakis, an artist most famous for being lead singer of the platinum-selling rock group, Everclear.
"There is a lot of energy in this room, which is due to many factors," said Allen.
Bringing expanded gaming to Northfield Park was a long time coming, according to Milstein, chairman and CEO of Northfield Park Associates and a USTA District 1 director.
"My father was working on this at least 10 years before I got here, and I came on in 1998," he said. "It's been another 14 years. What's really great is that the state's perception of gaming has changed."
Once it looked like Northfield would finally be allowed to install VLTs, the track found many suitors; however, Milstein said he's excited about the partner he found in Hard Rock.
"We had a lot of interest with a lot of gaming companies because of the market," he said. "They (Hard Rock International) looked at our facility and looked at our location and they felt theywere really, really well-situated for gaming. I got a chance to appreciate their expertise, and they just so happen to have a worldwide brand to go with it."
Groundbreaking will take place after the lawsuits challenging the legality of VLT gaming at Ohio racetracks have been defeated. Once the all-clear is given, construction of the facility should take approximately 12 months, according to Allen, who had lofty words for Milstein's work at Northfield.
"Northfield Park is a legendary harness track," he said. "I have seen countless racetracks over the last five years and when I walked into Northfield Park, where there is not a chip of paint, it's amazingly clean and has a great marketing operation, I knew this is a team that's interested in doing things the right way. They are 100 percent committed."
Horsemen said they were cautiously optimistic in the venture, but are eager to buy and race more horses in Ohio.
"We look forward to the future, and we look forward to a very positive partnership for all parties," said Amy Hollar, Ohio Harness Horsemen's Association representative at Northfield Park.
by T.J. BURKETT (executive editor, Hoof Beats magazine)