Dania Casino and Jai Alai

The owners of Dania Casino and Jai-Alai plan to close the fronton while it undergoes a renovation. Closing the casino will help accommodate a tighter construction schedule, they say. (Taimy Alvarez / Sun Sentinel file / January 22, 2014)

Dania Casino and Jai-Alai will come back bigger and better, but the casino will need to close for a year to shave six months off construction time, its owners say.

Initial plans called for keeping the fronton open while it is renovated. But this month, the owners said they planned to close the entire operation on Oct. 15 to accommodate a streamlined construction schedule.

The $275 million project calls for a new 500-room hotel, a marina and a revamped jai-alai facility. Plans include renovating the entire building, inside and out.

"By not keeping it open, we'll be able to shorten our construction timeline from 18 months to 12 months," said Louis Birdman, a part owner.

On Tuesday night, before an overflow crowd, Birdman asked Dania Beach commissioners to approve minor changes in the development plan approved in 2011, when the casino had different owners. Commissioners gave initial approval. A final vote is expected in two weeks.

Birdman said he and his partners own a 20 percent stake in the project. The rest belongs to a group of four casino owners from Argentina.

"They operate over 30 gaming facilities and employ over 10,000 people in their country," Birdman told commissioners.

In February, the casino began offering slots in a small section of the fronton, while starting renovations on 75 percent of the building.

Earlier this month, casino officials gave employees a 60-day notice of impending layoffs.

Commissioners Bobbie Grace, Al Jones and Chickie Brandimarte asked the owners to give priority to the 300 people who already work for the casino when they begin rehiring. Many of those people will lose their jobs by Oct. 15.

Birdman said he and his partners would consider the request.

Dania's slot revenues were drastically below that of competitors almost from the start.

The casino took in about $1 million per month via slots, far short of nearby competitors Mardi Gras Casino and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach — which both average about $4 million a month — and barely a fraction of the play seen at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe are not required to release their revenues, but estimates put the annual income of the tribe's seven Florida casinos at $2 billion.

When the casino reopens, it is expected to generate $46 million in gaming taxes, with $42 million going to the state, $2 million to Broward County and another $2 million to Dania Beach, according to Birdman's financial consultant.

In addition, Dania would collect $1.4 million in property taxes from the operation while the county would take in $1.2 million.

Construction would be split into four phases, Birdman said. When the first two phases are complete, Birdman estimates the project will generate an estimated 600 jobs.

The project attracted one lone opponent in Herbert Simpson.

The longtime Dania Beach resident told commissioners he is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the project. Simpson said he does not drive and is worried about the traffic the revamped casino will bring to Dania Beach Boulevard and Federal Highway.

Commissioners said they backed the project.

"We believe in you guys," Mayor Walter Duke said. "We'll work with you."

"We're behind this," added Brandimarte.

Grace said she looked forward to the longtime fixture transforming into an entertainment success.

"Put people back to work," Grace said. "I think it's a win-win. I just cannot wait. I want to see that facility up and running next December, top notch."


sbryan@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4554

credit: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-dania-jai-alai-meeting-082814-2...

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