ard Rock International is bidding for the license to develop and operate an integrated casino complex at the former Hellinikon Airport in southern Athens. The deadline for the submission of binding offers is the end of September, and Jim Allen, Chairman and CEO of the company, is very satisfied with the pace at which the new government and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis are moving ahead with the tender process for the development of the site.
“At Elliniko we want to develop an integrated tourism and entertainment complex that will be much more than just a box with slot machines and gaming tables,” Allen recently said in an interview with the local newspaper Kathimerini. “In our estimate, the whole investment will be significantly higher than 1 billion euros.”
Furthermore, Allen expressed his satisfaction at the fact that the US Embassy is “always there” to assist American businesses, and he explained that the very DNA of the American group he heads guarantees cooperation with local communities, agencies and stakeholders as regards the construction and operation of the complex. “We have been talking about the project and the tender with the Greek state and the gaming commission, as well as with the concessionaire, for a year and a half now, and we’ve also been talking to collaborators in the country, and we are now on the final stretch,” he said.
Hard Rock believes that Athens, and Attica in general, is one of the top urban destinations globally. Allen said it is the maturing of everything they saw years ago, when the company opened its first Hard Rock Cafe in Monastiraki, a business they kept open throughout the crisis. “The Hellinikon Project has also been one of the largest urban developments in the world for some time now, and we share the vision of the Greek government and the concessionaire for a truly special project that will boost the economy and further promote the city. Regarding the integrated casino resort we are developing in Barcelona, suffice it to say that it’s not the only one, because we are in 75 countries around the world, ‘running’ dozens of projects simultaneously,” he added.
Asked about the regulatory framework and tax model for the operation in Athens, Allen said there is always room for improvement, and that Hard Rock is always open to talking to the authorities about these issues. But he remarked that they are participating in the tender having “thoroughly studied the regulatory aspect, so we have a positive take on this.”
In 2018, Hard Rock had 150 million visitors to its resorts worldwide, and its CEO believes that through the Reward programs and offers for their customers, as well as through promotion of this particular destination they are developing with new customers, the brand will be able to bring several million travelers to Athens.
Within the group, Hard Rock has a department made up of 75 architects, and in its recent expansions and developments, the firm has innovated using advanced virtual reality (VR) programs to optimize its designs, and before the construction begins, they can see every detail of the spaces and optimize them based on their extensive international experience.
Last year, Hard Rock held over 35,000 events throughout the world, and Allen said the brand will create events like these at Elliniko, with world-class, high-recognition artists. “So it’s a good thing there is provision for the construction of spaces for events like these – spaces of 300,000 sq.m. at the complex. That’s the difference between us and other candidates and groups abroad: our focus is more on entertainment than gaming. We are active in 74 countries, with 12 casinos and 27 hotels,” he said.
Since its buyout of Hard Rock in 2017, the group has expanded its presence globally from 46 to 74 countries, increased the number of its cafes from 125 to 185, hotels from nine to 27, and casinos from four to 12, and during this time the firm constructed the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, according to Allen. At the same time, they have launched a major expansion of their international assets’ portfolio.
Commenting on the need for a partner at the Hellinikon Project, Allen said that it is the only entertainment and gaming company in the world that has a high investment-grade rating from the three major agencies – Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – which means that Hard Rock International has its own capital as well as the access to capital markets required to fund a large project like Elliniko and the rest of its investment programs. “Normally, the financing scheme includes 40 percent equity and 60 percent borrowing, and that is about how we expect to move ahead in Athens. Loans will come from the usual sources, such as international banks, as well as from Greek banks if we reach an agreement, while we will probably be joined in the 40 percent equity participation by Greek groups, if that decision is reached,” he explained.
Moreover, Allen said Western Europe and the rest of the continent are some of the most promising markets for attracting visitors to the upcoming venue, while the Near and Middle East and the Persian Gulf “are de facto neighboring markets from which we are sure we will be able to attract visitors to the Elliniko resort.”
As regards future plans for building hotels or hotel-casinos, these include Berlin, Budapest, Dublin, Madrid, Maldives, New York, Ottawa, Sacramento, Dalian and Haikou in China. Upcoming new Hard Rock Cafe locations include Kathmandu, Nepal; Kyoto, Japan; Asuncion, Paraguay; Puerto Madero in Argentina and Chandigarh in India.