Everyone has heard how tough it is to be successful under the bright and constantly glaring spotlight that is New York City.  Yet theGenting Group’s Resorts World Casino New York City, the city’s first, and so far only, commericial casino, has achieved this and more.

Opened in October of 2011, Resorts World New York City generated in excess of $650 million in gross gaming revenue during its first year of operation. The property also contributed an astounding $825 million in tax revenues for the state over that same time period—$445 million from gaming and $380 million from a one-time licensing fee. Located in the New York City borough of Queens, Resorts World is also helping to revitalize its neighborhood, thanks in large part to its 10 million annual visitors.

The casino has also resurrected a slice of NYC’s history—the Aqueduct Raceway, a horse track that originally opened in 1894 and where champions Secretariat, Man o’ War and Seabiscuit raced. In fact, Resorts World actually shares the same address as Aqueduct and is built into the raceway’s grandstand. The goal of the adaptive reuse project was to preserve as much of the Aqueduct’s existing grandstand as possible. Casino guests can walk out on the casino terrace, which is part of the original Aqueduct grandstand, and watch the horses in action on the track.

Genting’s vision to repurpose Aqueduct transformed 64 acres of site development, converted 736,000 square feet to gaming and associated amenities, created more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,350 permanent positions. The entire project, Aqueduct and Resorts World, was a multi-phased $550 million construction project that included extensive site work on 64 acres; a five-story, 2,365-space parking garage with a bus drop-off area and lobby; and a 7,200 square-foot, climate-controlled bridge that links the Aqueduct subway station to Manhattan and the AirTrain transit system.

Without a doubt, among the most challenging elements of designing and constructing Resorts World was its adaptive reuse of Aqueduct’s grandstand. The design and construction team collaborated on ideas to preserve the building’s existing structural integrity to incorporate new structural columns in the overall geometry of the space.

While there is always an inherent challenge in restoring obsolete, decaying properties, in general the repurposing of existing buildings can create reductions in cost and time, since much of the initial construction is already in place. For the surrounding neighborhoods and communities, reviving existing structures generates revenue as well as employment, including construction jobs in the short term and long-term employment opportunities in the revitalized facilities. Repurposed buildings also produce substantial environmental benefits. They reduce impact on landfills, limit waste disposal and construction materials transportation. Repurposing promotes hazardous materials remediation and energy conservation through replacement of existing infrastructure with more efficient energy systems. What’s more, restoring properties, especially those that have historical significance, creates an alluring mix that blends the nostalgia of a bygone era with the vitality of updated entertainment offerings.

The pros for repurposing the 119-year old Aqueduct far exceeded the cons, although there were obstacles along the way. The structure required significant abatement work. Construction was complicated by its close proximity to other project activities. A large workforce of 2,000 craftspeople, all in full swing working three shifts seven-days-a-week to meet an aggressive 12-month schedule—had to work around a functioning racetrack. During racing season, construction crews had to be mindful of not disrupting the horses and their training schedules.

Compounding the challenge was the intense public scrutiny of building New York’s first casino. The pressure of delivering a quality project on time, and the desire to see it succeed, was palpable by everyone involved

BUILT TO ATTRACT

Were the challenges and pressure of building New York’s first casino worth it? Most emphatically, yes. Resorts World has proven to be an economic racehorse for New York City. In one year, it has generated gross gaming revenues of more than $650 million, with $445 million allocated to New York State in tax revenue. In the blink of an eye, Resorts World has become one of the largest slot revenue properties in the United States. Surrounding communities have also benefited. To celebrate its first anniversary, Resorts World donated an additional $500,000 to local community organizations, surpassing the company’s original commitment of donating one percent of its yearly profits.

Resorts World’s 2013 anniversary may even be grander. Bets are business will increase with the addition of Table Games Square and Roulette Sports Bar with 500 table game machines, including the first single-zero European Roulette machines in the country. Plans were also unveiled to double the casino’s bus shuttles from parts of New York City and Long Island. Aqueduct’s financial livelihood has also prospered. Attendance and revenue is up due to the mass of people visiting the casino.

Resorts World’s economic victory stems from a variety of reasons, including the area’s enormous population base, the timing of the development and the quality of the finished product. “Build it and they will come” only rings true if a business offers what people want. With 10 million people annually passing through Resorts World’s doors, the casino obviously delivers.

The transformation from grandstand to casino required design approaches specifically tailored to meet the rigorous requirements and demands of these complex programs. The existing building became a canvas for the project team to create a new and energizing experience. JCJ Architecture began by abandoning the traditional notion of a casino as a windowless and dark place; creating an aesthetic that was much brighter, more vibrant and uplifting. Every detail from the vaulted ceilings to the 60-foot chandelier in the lobby to the ornate detailing of the terrazzo floors is designed to evoke a sense of grandeur and expansiveness.

Resorts World is designed to be “uniquely New York,” incorporating design elements that portray, and celebrate many of the city’s most recognizable and iconic features. Each of the casino’s three levels reflects an atmosphere inspired by a New York City landmark. Times Square Casino, located on the first floor, evokes the energy and vibrancy of Times Square with interactive digital billboards, streaming video displays projecting music videos and sporting events and Bar 360, a multi-level entertainment venue featuring the largest video screen of its kind in the nation. An outdoor terrace extends beyond Bar 360 and the Aqueduct Buffet, providing patrons with views of Aqueduct Racetrack. The Fifth Avenue Casino, positioned on the second level, features high-stakes gaming and fine dining. The lobby atrium is crowned by the “Light of Nations” chandelier, a 60-foot crystal feature with 193 hand-blown glass globes, each individually etched with the name of a country recognized by the United Nations. The third floor accommodates the Central Park portion of the casino. Inspired by Central Park’s open spaces, verdant colors and natural textures, the expansive 70,000-square-foot event space is the largest in Queens.

“Our vision for Resorts World was to create a vibrant venue with entertainment options that appeal to a broad audience,” said Mike Speller, president of Resorts World Casino New York. “Through our collaborations with JCJ [architect] and Tutor Perini [construction management], that vision has become a reality and now one of the greatest cities in the world has a gaming and entertainment destination it can call its own.”

Resorts World Casino New York City is an extraordinary example of using ingenuity and tenacity to successfully repurpose land and restore an aging landmark. Government, business, and unions worked toward a common goal that revitalized a New York landmark while “shattering” revenue generating records. Going forward, we believe there are plenty of more records to break.