Fun. Energetic. International. Sensual. Upscale. Imagine designing an Atlantic City casino that is all of these things and more. The latest addition to America’s favorite playground is helping change the perception of the city once thought of as second-rate compared to Las Vegas.
The $1.1 billion Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa provides an entertainment destination unlike any other experience on the East Coast. “Atlantic City always suffered somewhat from the claims by gamers that it was never going to be like Las Vegas. Borgata tried to change that. Ultimately, I think they did. Borgata’s mantra has been to bring a taste of Las Vegas to Atlantic City,” says Thomas Koenig, senior project manager, Tishman Construction Corp., New York City.
Under the direction of a principal architect (Marnell Architecture), two executive architects (Bower Lewis Thrower Architects and Cope Linder Associates), and a consulting architect (SOSH Architects), the project plans began to take shape. Totaling more than 4 million square feet, the Borgata features 2,002 guestrooms and suites; 125,000 square feet of gaming space; parking for 7,100 cars; and a 50,000-square-foot European-style spa. Additional features include 11 retail boutiques and 11 destination restaurants; a 1,000-seat theater; a 15,000-square-foot indoor pool/garden complex; and 70,000 square feet of event space.
Completed in July 2003, the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa was the result of a joint venture partnership between Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage. With the help of countless numbers of people, the Borgata became the first casino opened in Atlantic City in 13 years. Decade-old restrictions had long since been abandoned and the opportunity was ripe.
Las Vegas has perfected the art of themed architecture, with hotels and casinos imitating some of the world’s greatest travel destinations. Following an in-depth market analysis, the Borgata’s owners decided the design should take a fresh approach. Five adjectives were identified, and it was up to the interior designers (Dougall Design Associates, Laurence Lee Associates, and Inter Arch Design Associates Inc.) to define that feeling in Borgata’s hospitality, spa, and public spaces. “[They] didn’t want an artificial representation of a time or place. What they wanted from the buzzwords was a feeling. I don’t know that anybody has truly done that in the industry,” explains Terry Dougall, president, Dougall Design Associates Inc., Pasadena.
The subtleties evoke a sensation or mood and the energy is electric. “The name ‘Borgata’ means ‘little village’ in Italian,” explains Mariann Gray, senior project manager, formerly with Tishman Construction Corp. The elegant style hints at Tuscany but boldly juxtaposes Old World elements with contemporary flair – a result with universal appeal.
The Borgata sought to provide an experience for East Coast travelers who had frequently thought of Las Vegas as the premier gaming destination. “There are a lot of people on the East Coast that didn’t go to Atlantic City because they didn’t feel there was a product there that enticed them. [The joint venture owners] didn’t just want to capture the existing market; they wanted to expand the market,” explains Dougall. The design challenge was to create a space that would appeal to a broad age group.
Roman columns, groin vaults, and warm rich colors reminiscent of a Tuscan village blend seamlessly with modern fixtures and materials. “What happens is you have one generation that is 50 and older that identifies with what’s familiar and you have those that are 35 and younger that identify with the contemporary edge,” Dougall says.
The Borgata exudes elegance.
Creating an experience like no other, the Borgata was carefully planned, locating each of the amenities for maximum guest convenience. “We wanted to create a variety of experiences for the property’s customers. Separate from the casino atmosphere, the hotel guests were given a more ‘resort’ feel by having direct access to the spa and a dedicated lobby area off of the casino floor; we called this the decompression chamber. This gives the customer more options and variety during their stay at the property,” says Mike Stewart, vice president of architecture, Marnell Architecture, Las Vegas. The property’s first floor is home to restaurants, nightclubs, and bars, which are directly attached to the casino floor. The spa and pool area are accessed from the second floor, ensuring that hotel guests do not have to walk through the casino in swimwear and robes.
Completion of this extremely complex project took the efforts and dedication of an immense team of professionals. Comparable in size to 233 football fields, the Borgata required a synergy of dedicated individuals, each taking ownership and pride in their contribution to the facility. “The biggest success was actually pulling off building the greatest hotel/casino in not only Atlantic City, but I’ll bet you a lot of other towns as well,” says Koenig, proudly. While most of Borgata was being built, it was North America’s largest hospitality project and involved nearly 2,200 workers during the height of construction.
Throughout the conception, design, and construction of Borgata, communication was imperative. “No casino and hotel like the Borgata would be nearly as successful if operations didn’t get involved early on with designers. That’s exactly what happened at the Borgata,” explains Koenig. “All the design professionals were brought on very early, along with the operations people, so that everyone stayed on the same page the whole time and there weren’t any surprises during construction.” Everyone’s desire to bring Atlantic City its newest casino/hotel resulted in a huge success and overwhelming pride. According to Dougall, “Everybody is going crazy over the place.”
Jana J. Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.