Marlon Blackwell Architects (MBA) opened a lawsuit to dispute unpaid fees over the design of the Saracen Resort Casino that's currently under construction in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. According to Arkansas Times, the firm filed a complaint this month against HBG Design, Saracen Development, and John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw tribe’s business committee, citing copyright infringement, business interference, and breach of contract for their architectural design work on the project. As chair of architecture at the University of Arkansas, Blackwell was recently awarded the 2020 AIA Gold Medal for his influence in both architectural education and practice. According to the report, his studio designed a substantial amount of the project before HBG Design was brought on to assist. The Quapaws allegedly agreed to give Blackwell 35 percent of the architectural fee, but this agreement was not honored. Per the 55-page suit—which details Blackwell’s work on the project—the firm alleged that HGB and the Quapaw Nation stole MBA’s "copyright-protected architectural designs for that project, and refused to pay MBA what it is owed for its work on the project.” The suit further states that HBG had “poisoned” MBA’s relationship with the Quapaw Nation “by telling falsehoods," which caused the firm to be removed from the project. However, much of MBA’s designs were still used in blueprints without credit. In an interview with Arkansas Times, Berrey said MBA's work wasn't on par with the Quapaw tribe's goals. “We think Mr. Blackwell is a very talented boutique architect," he said. "But functionality and constructability were lost in our process. We had hoped he was able to mold our specific needs into a great expression of the history of the wonderful Pine Bluff community, but it became very clear he didn’t share our vision.” The casino is anticipated to open by June 1, 2020, and will feature a 300-room hotel, spa, restaurants, conference center, entertainment venue, as well as a museum and cultural center that will open in early 2021. A casino annex has already been completed and began serving guests this past September. AN reached out to Marlon Blackwell Architects for comment on the lawsuit and will update this article upon receiving a response.
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Wynn Resorts, the owner of several casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere, is suing Resorts World Las Vegas because its forthcoming Sin City casino will allegedly be too architecturally similar to various Wynn properties. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the case has now been filed in court. Resorts World's casino is under construction across the street from Encore and Wynn Las Vegas, which are both housed in curved bronze glass-clad high rises similar in style to other Wynn buildings in Boston and elsewhere. Wynn claims that the Resorts World casino, which will also include a curved bronze bar building, will be mistaken for a Wynn property and could damage Wynn's reputation and brand standing by association. Renderings of the Resorts World casino, designed by Steelman Partners, show the complex festooned in red, Chinese-inspired flourishes but with the curved bronze buildings clearly visible. Probably exacerbating the conflict is the fact that the two casinos will sit almost directly across from each other. The Resorts World complex, designed by Las Vegas–firm Butler/Ashworth, is set to open in 2020 with a clear view to its rivals. As the Review-Journal reported, this is not the first time Wynn has taken a rival to task for imitating its trademark style. The company previously sued Universal Entertainment for a too-similar project in the Philippines. While this case is probably an enormous headache for all the architects directly involved, it's an indication to other architects that at least some businesses place great importance in architecture and credit buildings for helping to build and maintain a successful enterprise. Underlying Wynn's suit is a tacit assumption that architecture matters and is a vital component of its business that is worth protecting. The Strip that inspired Learning From Las Vegas may have more to teach. h/t Construction Dive
One way the casino industry in Massachusetts mandates diversity within its construction projects is by only giving gambling licenses to companies that use 6.9 percent female labor. According to a CNBC report, the opportunity to work on these multi-million dollar buildings as tradespeople is a lucrative way for women to get into construction. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires that all casino developers set diversity contracting goals and build strategic plans to work with minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned business. Throughout the design procurement and licensing processes, companies must keep and provide detailed records showing statistics on how they’re integrating these different groups into the business of building and operating the casinos. Two upcoming Massachusetts casinos, Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, have exceeded the commission’s hiring goals and are on track for setting precedents as models of diverse hiring strategies for construction projects in the United States. Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resorts development coming in June 2019 to the city of Everett, currently employs 328 women. That’s 7 percent of the total labor on site—a goal they hit in July. MGM Springfield, opening later this month, hired 7.5 percent skilled female labor laborers and boasted an all-female demolition crew during its initial construction phases. Women currently make up 3 percent of skilled tradespeople in the U.S. construction industry. These projects reveal that the male-dominated field can employ more women and well exceed the national average of female workers when governing bodies set strict standards for diversity and fairness. CNBC noted that Building Pathways, a nonprofit program that helps low-income people in Massachusetts access building trade apprenticeships and jobs in construction, hopes to make the construction industry workforce 20 percent female by 2020.
A group of U.S. firms have been selected to help design one of Toronto's major undeveloped sites, a 683-acre property where a mixed-use urban neighborhood will be built. These include the Laguna Beach, California-based office of SWA Group, San Francisco-based BCV Architects, and New York-based Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. The site—about 1.5 miles north of Toronto's Pearson International Airport—is currently owned by Woodbine Entertainment Group; the development will be built around the existing Woodbine Racetrack, which hosts live horse races four days a week. The group's gaming offerings will be the focus of the development, and a new casino will join the racetrack on the site. Woodbinem, who's working with development consultant Live Work Learn Play, will also add biking and walking trails, retail and restaurants, and housing. The project will also experiment with growing feed on the premises for its resident thoroughbred horses. Planning will take place over the next six months, while construction might be a decades-long process.
If a billionaire New Jersey investor gets his way, it will be a lot harder for lazy headline writers to call Jersey City the “New Brooklyn.” That's because wealthy person Paul Fireman wants to bestow upon the city a very non-artisanal $4 billion sky-scraping casino and resort complex. The Wall Street Journal reported that the massive project includes a "90-story hotel, 14 restaurants, a theater and a complex of pools on a 200-acre site.” It is being called "Liberty Rising," which sounds more like a Hollywood blockbuster or covert military operation than a mixed-use development, but, hey, what can you do. For "Liberty Rising" to actually, well, rise, New Jersey lawmakers will need to pass a referendum to expand gambling into the northern part of the state. The Journal reported that Garden State lawmakers are split on when to bring up the referendum, and how new gambling revenue would be spent. It seems that a portion of the revenue would go toward boosting Atlantic City's tourist economy. (This would be a good time to mention that at the end of last summer four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos had closed, costing 8,000 people their jobs. ) If New Jersey voters ultimately vote in favor of the plan, then Liberty Rising, and other projects like it, could take shape just outside of New York City. This specific project was designed by the Las Vegas–based Friedmutter Group Architects and, expectedly, has a Las Vegas vibe going for it. The complex rises from a multi-tiered podium that is topped with waterfalls, pools, and green space. Below, there's a place to park your yacht. Along one of the two glass towers appears to be landscape terraces that jut out of the main structure. Liberty Rising is obviously a massive project, but just one of the many new developments reshaping Jersey City. As AN reported last year, the city is taking advantage of its close proximity to Manhattan and trying to entice New Yorkers being priced out of the five boroughs with new residential buildings—many of them rising to supertall heights.
News recently broke that the $2.4 billion Revel Casino in Atlantic city would be closing just two-and-a-half years after it opened. It's been a rough week for the casino and a new report from the Press of Atlantic City manages to make things even worse. According to the publication, earlier this month, when armored cars were removing cash from the casino, a bag containing $21,000 in currency was left on top of one of the vehicles. When the car drove off, the bag (obviously) fell off, and nobody has seen it since. Crunching the numbers, that puts Revel back approximately $2,400,021,000—which equals a ton of money.
Two years ago, AN visited the newly-opened Revel Casino in Atlantic City. At the time, the glassy $2.4 billion complex, designed by Arquitectonica and BLT Architects, was expected to be a transformative property for the iconic boardwalk that offered gambling, convention space, and entertainment. "It's more of an urban development plan than a typical casino plan," Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis told AN. "I am really hoping that we are successful." In mid-August, we learned that they were not. In its short two-and-a-half year lifespan, the casino never turned a profit. The casino's parent company recently announced that they weren't able to find a buyer for the bankrupt complex and that Revel's last day would be September 10th. That date has already been moved up—the hotel will now close on September 1st, Labor Day. The casino will close the day after, which will put over 3,000 people out of work. Revel's huge cost, and its very short lifespan, has unsurprisingly received lots of attention, but its closing is just the latest sign of trouble in Atlantic City—the Showboat will close on August 31st, Trump Plaza calls it quits on September 16th, and the Atlantic Club shuttered in January. These closings reflect Atlantic City's challenge to stay relevant amongst more competition. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted that Atlantic City, which had been the nation's second-largest gambling market ranking just behind Nevada, has now fallen behind Pennsylvania. But in terms of Revel, specifically, its design may have been its fatal flaw. “The enormous cost of the property, its vast size and its peculiar configuration—patrons had to ride a steep escalator from the lobby to get to the casino, the 57-story hotel and the restaurants—made it difficult to turn a profit,” reported the New York Times. These sentiments were echoed by industry experts who spoke to the Inquirer in June. They mentioned the "long distance between the casino floor and the hotel's front desk, a casino floor that fails to engage gamblers, and vast empty spaces that make Revel expensive to heat and cool." And Alan R. Woinski, chief executive of Gaming USA Corp, pulled no punches when describing his thoughts on the property. "The best thing that could have happened to that property is Hurricane Sandy, instead of nailing Seaside Heights, would have nailed that property. That thing should have wound up in the ocean instead of the roller coaster," he told the publication. "It's sad, but unfortunately that was the only way, to completely knock the thing down and redo it."
In Las Vegas, you win some and you lose some. Lining up as what must be one of the biggest busts in Sin City history, the exceptionally-botched, Foster + Partners–designed Harmon Hotel, now has a date with the wrecking ball. The stubby 27-story tower—it was originally supposed to measure 49 stories but construction problems stunted its growth—never opened and no one ever checked in at what would surely have been a posh front desk. As AN reported in 2011, the Harmon Hotel was in the midst of a bitter lawsuit to allow demolition to proceed as some were claiming the structural deficiencies were enough to make even the shortened tower structurally unsound and at risk of collapse:
After discovering deficient steel reinforcing in early 2009, MGM left the foreshortened tower an unfinished shell but is now moving to implode the structure citing safety concerns. Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs at MGM, said the company had submitted an engineering recommendation and demolition action plan to Clark County, Nevada detailing the structural shortcomings of the Harmon. “The city asked us to respond to the engineer’s report to determine the best way forward,” said Feldman. “We decided the best move is to take the building down.”The Harmon Hotel is part of MGM's $9 billion mega-development, CityCenter, which features buildings by Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Vinoly, Helmut Jahn, and others. The Harmon Hotel sits adjacent to Libeskind's ultra-luxury shopping center, the Crystals, which AN profiles in a past retail feature. Now, MGM has resolved that lawsuit and on April 22 received court approval to proceed with demolition of the tower. According to a report in Architectural Record, there won't be a dramatic, Las Vegas–style implosion. Instead, the hotel will be taken apart, piece by piece, over the next year.
Zaha Hadid has designed another seemingly-structurally-impossible parametric building form that is set to touch down in Macau in 2017. The building, which could be equally at home in Miami or Dubai, is a large block that has been punctured by three curvaceous openings. The entire mass is encased in an exposed exoskeleton that twists and turns along the structure's contours. The project was undertaken at the behest of Melco Crown Entertainment, casino magnates who have contributed the City of Dreams resort to the gambling-soaked Chinese island. The developers commissioned Hadid to create the fifth hotel located on the property, which will top out at 40 stories and house 780 rooms in over 1.6 million square feet of space. Other expected amenities include luxury retail, specialty restaurants, spa facilities, a roof-top pool, and a number of gaming areas. The external latticework varies in patterning as it crawls up the structure's facade. It is densest at its middle, where it navigates the irregularities of the design's central void, and becomes more elongated at each of the building's poles. The interior is more angular, awash in crystalline glass outcroppings subdivided by triangular grids. These walls collide with the curved base of the structure's opening to create a 130-foot central atrium that welcomes arriving visitors to the hotel. Construction for the newest member of the City of Dreams is already underway.
After a Foxwoods casino went bust in Philadelphia, an elusive casino license has been up for grabs, and proposals for a new facility have been pouring in over the Philly region. Six developers are competing for the city’s second casino license, and two of the proposals are betting on Downtown. Curbed reported that while the majority of the proposed developments are planned for the outer edges of Philly, two proposals intend on building right in the heart of the city. One developer, Blatstein Group, has proposed a colossal $700 million French Baroque-inspired casino, aptly dubbed The Provence, which will take over a sizeable portion of downtown—eight city blocks—at Broad and Callowhill streets, repurposing the former Inquirer and Daily News Tower and building a hotel, retail, entertainment venues, restaurants, and Versailles-style gardens on the roof. A second proposal called Market 8, located at Market and 8th streets on the site of a surface parking lot, appears to be less kitchy and theme-driven than its competitor, but would be equally as sprawling with 100,000-square feet of gaming, eight signature restaurants, concert venue, and hotel. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is evaluating the proposals and is expected to make a decision later this year, but as Philadelphia Enquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron warned last year, "As Philadelphia knows too well, developers seeking casino licenses start by trotting out gauzy renderings of Paris, France, but end up building something more like Paris, Texas." It remains to be seen whether the two flashy urban proposals will bring real value to Philly. The other regional contenders include Casino Revolution, Live! Hotel and Casino, Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, and Wynn Philadelphia.
Casinos have landed in Ohio’s three largest cities, now that Cincinnati’s $400 million Horseshoe casino is open for business. Eric Douglas, a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, has an interesting post as a guest blogger for UrbanCincy on the casino’s supposedly urban character. While Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati have been billed as “truly urban” establishments, he writes, “casinos are not known to be particularly friendly urban creatures.” A large lawn at the building’s main entrance is the extent of the building’s civic engagement, by Douglas’ account, while the slab-like frontage on the building’s other end provides no urban connectivity whatsoever. Located downtown and not far from the booming Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Horseshoe is a worthy target for design criticism. Even if its selling point at the ballot box—where Ohio voters approved four new casinos in recent years—was revenue and not urbanism, the facility’s contribution to a city on the rebound could be more than tax dollars. The casino owners said they expect 6 million visitors a year to the 24-7 facility.
The Thompson Center is an easy target. Most Chicagoans only know it as that Po-Mo Behemoth where we transfer between L lines and occasionally visit the DMV in the basement food court, perhaps the only location in America where you can get a slice of Sbarro and a new driver’s license. It’s a beast of a building—so bad, it’s almost good—and has been plagued with problem after problem, most recently the removal of the granite panels along the plaza. Tackling its so obviously deferred maintenance and adapting it for future use would be no small task. That’s why, according to the Sun-Times, the president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a major labor chief have proposed building a casino in the lower level and first floor of the building. When we think of downtown casinos, we think of Detroit. Look, Eavesdrop loves Detroit and is rooting for its revival on a daily basis, but Chicago doesn’t want to be using Detroit as its urban development role model. If this nutty scheme comes to fruition, there would be a casino in a building located across from City Hall, which also houses hundreds of state government employees. They better get ready to beef up their Employee Assistance Program, as the state might have a few more gambling addicts on their payroll.