The Cordish Co., known for redevelopment projects in the Inner Harbor and elsewhere, is gambling on something new. It is the developer of a $300 million Seminole Indian project in Florida that includes a hotel, shops and possibly the state's largest casino.
The Baltimore developer broke ground yesterday for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Resort in Hollywood, which is scheduled to open in the fall next year on the Seminole reservation.
Cordish is also the developer of a second, $100 million facility planned on a Seminole reservation in Tampa.
"This is a very important project not only for the tribe but for South Florida," said Joe Weinberg, a vice president at Cordish. "Gaming is only one component of what we're doing."
In addition to being the developer, Cordish will operate all of the nongambling operations at both Florida facilities, including hotels, retail and entertainment venues. It will have no ownership stake.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
Cordish said that although several public officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony and pledged their support for the project, which will bring jobs and tourism to the region, not everyone was pleased.
Gambling has become increasingly controversial as Native American tribes seek out highly lucrative gaming deals on their reservations. Some state officials, including Florida's attorney general, fear casinos bring problems along with cash.
The attorney general's office in Florida says gambling is illegal anywhere in the state, but an official there acknowledged that Florida is powerless to stop the sovereign tribe without the federal government's help.
Tribes are required by federal law to seek the state's blessing in a written compact. According to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 267 gambling compacts in 24 states.
Florida has refused to enter into a compact with the Seminoles and is in litigation with the federal government over rules that it says allow the tribe to operate casinos without a compact.
"We believe the tribes have been engaged in illegal gambling for almost a decade," said Jon Glogau, a special counsel in the state attorney general's office.
There are about five other gambling operations on reservations around the state, Glogau said. He said he thinks the new Seminole casino will be the largest.
Cruise boat operators also run "cruises to nowhere" that allow gambling once they are outside of state waters.
For the Seminole tribe, which has 2,600 members living on five reservations in Florida, the gambling is about financial independence.
"We are excited about creating a world-class entertainment attraction in South Florida," James E. Billie, chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, said in a statement
"This project will expand the visitor base to the region, employ thousands of people and be a tremendous source of pride to the Seminole tribe and the state of Florida. "
The Hollywood casino, near Fort Lauderdale, will include a 750-room Hard Rock Hotel, a health spa, a beach club and a town center-style retail and entertainment complex.
A $100 million Hard Rock Hotel with 250 rooms and a casino is expected to break ground in Tampa in February.
The two projects are expected to generate 6,000 permanent jobs.