Two brand-new casino/hotels and the wealth of good feeling and enterprise that came with them, an unprecedented, upcoming university along with shoreline, and scores of anti-Gretchen Carlson posters — these are but some of the defining elements of the See-You-in-September summer in Atlantic City, a rabidly busy and noisy season readying for autumn, and the onslaught of gaming, dining and entertainment options.
Into this frantic fray, then, some calm could be needed. So, welcome to The Tropicana and its Chelsea Tower, a newly opened addition to its existing quartet pf towers, now with rooftop deck bars, a Chelsea Five Gastropub (once known as Stephen Starr’s Chelsea Prime), a Whiskey Five Bar, Gilchrist’s famous hot cakes, an oasis pool and spa, and many ocean-facing rooms that offer a respite from the rest of AC’s rabble. The Trop’s Chelsea Tower (220 in the tower, 110 in an annex), the former-and-famously-known Chelsea Hotel, was acquired by the Tropicana in 2017 after a December 2016 closing. With its summer 2018 opening, it became the fifth hotel tower on the Trop property, one that took nearly five years and $200 million worth of upgrades and facelifts.
That all this new towering very nearly didn’t happen makes the Trop’s most recent expansion even more dramatic. Open since 1981 at 2831 Boardwalk with its "old Havana" theme intact, billionaire hedge-fund manager Carl Icahn very nearly ditched his AC acquisition (he had seven Trop properties) until making a $1.85 billion deal with Eldorado Resorts Inc. and Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. (Actually Tropicana Entertainment Inc. sold its real estate holdings to Gaming and Leisure Properties for $1.21 billion, and merged its hotel/gaming operations into Eldorado Resorts, which is leasing it for $640 million.)
Tropicana President and CEO Tony Rodio could not be reached for comment regarding the sales. Trop Boardwalk General Manager Steve Callender wouldn’t discuss the done deal, or life under Carl Icahn. “The deal is still being worked out, the Eldorado isn’t licensed yet, and there’s not a lot we can say,” stated Callender. But Callender, who started at the Trop in 2010 in charge of the casino, has been in Atlantic City his whole life, was one of the original dealers at Resorts in 1978 and was thrilled to chat all things Trop gambling and towering. “I’ve been here since the start,” said Callender. “It’s been a great time.”
With that, his opinion on all things regarding his town is crucial, and based on reason and history, and not the whim of currency. As the Trop gets into sports betting, finally, with a new deal brokered with bookmaker William Hill Race & Sports Book to offer sports betting (no timetable was given for its launch in the Tropicana's North Tower casino near the table games), Callender is psyched. “it’s an exciting option for the Trop, especially as we have four sports bars here, including a Chickie & Pete’s, and we think sports betting will be a hit with the millennials. We’re not rushing it though. We don’t want it done sloppily.” When Callender and I spoke originally, the GM hoped that the Trop’s sports betting would be up and ready by football season. Hurry up.
The acquisition of the Chelsea Tower and its row of rooms is an exciting transitional story for the Trop and Callender. Reminding us how last year, at this time, the Chelsea was closed, he believes it was luck and the need for transformation that allowed the Trop’s parents to acquire the property and its becalmed atmospheres slightly away, and apart, from the Boardwalk’s main gaming drag. “We took advantage of the year that we had since the purchase to build a connector, and make the best of the property in relation to the Tropicana,” stated Callender. “The value we found in the Trop, when it comes down to straight analytics, means over 300 new rooms, which – at this time in this town – is valuable. We were fully occupied 89% of 2017, and needed those new rooms for those overnight stays and weekends throughout the year.” That’s the pragmatic side of the Tropicana’s Chelsea purchase. For even when Atlantic City had its seasons in Hell on the gambling side, people still fully occupied AC’s hotels for overnights and club life. “Very much so,” said Callender. “Our hotel was packed, and not having more rooms for those overnights hurt . We solved that with the Chelsea.”
Then there is a matter of aesthetics and calm when it comes to staying in Atlantic City and the Chelsea Tower. Along with its more recent history of Starr restaurants and club promoters from Philly and New York City, many Atlantic City homeowners and habitual habitués have rich, fond memories of the Chelsea Hotel for its air of calm and coolness.” It’s a fun, boutique-y place, especially since there was a lot of money spent on it 10 years ago. It has good bones and beautiful views of the ocean and the bay from its rooms. It’s convenient to the bay and the beach, yet, it has always felt like as if it is apart from everything.”
And that has long been the premiere allure of the Chelsea Hotel, and now, its re-envisioning as the Tropicana’s Chelsea tower: that it is both of and in Atlantic City, and oh-so-very-much of a separate place; a calm and quiet vibe that will exist at a real premium as AC gets hotter and busier.