One area of the Seminole Tribe’s swampland was dotted with trailers selling cigarettes and promotions for bingo. But that’s no more. Last week the tribe blew open music-themed doors of its newest Hard Rock Guitar Hotel, unveiling the $1.5 billion dollar resort project that was 12 years in the making.
The resort rivals the glitziest resorts in Las Vegas, and opening day events showcased a gleaming LED-lit 450-foot high Guitar Hotel with music and comedy performance. The red carpet was packed with surprise celebrities to include Johnny Depp, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Khloe Kardashian, Morgan Freeman and rock star Stevie Salas, Apache, who has toured with Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, sold millions of albums and was a producer of the film Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.
Mixing in with the hordes of global guests were plenty of Natives, Seminole, and Miccosukee in bright patchwork finery, all celebrating a party around a 5-acre lagoon pool for thousands that found mermaids and mermen, aerialists, a guitar smash and an LED fireworks light show at dusk.
“The new Hard Rock Guitar Tower is beyond mind-blowing,” Salas said a day after the opening.
“I was lucky to see the drawing a long time ago from my Seminole friends and although the photos looked insane. They didn’t come close. I mean it’s a global monument to rock n roll. Plus they had some RUMBLE posters up which made me pretty happy ha ha ha!”
The Seminole have been involved in supporting many film and music projects since the tribe acquired the Hard Rock Enterprise in 2006 for close to a billion dollars. Salas was among those financed by the Seminole Tribe, as well as an artist supported by Hard Rock. When the tribe acquired Hard Rock, it was a mixing of two great worlds for Salas.
“It was a dream when I was a kid to get my guitars into a Hard Rock. In the 90s the Hard Rock put up eight of my guitars around the world plus one of my surfboards. They were not a Native-owned company then. Now that the Seminoles own the franchise, when I see my guitars on the walls I feel even more pride,” said Salas.
“As for collaborations, the Seminole tribe and Hard Rock invested in my Sundance-winning Doc Film Rumble. I showed them a rough cut of the film before it came out and they said Hard Rock is the premier rock n roll company and we are Native-owned so we must be involved with your film about Native American rock stars,” he said. “And it’s been a great collaboration.”
A star-studded event
Salas was on the red carpet for photos along with Chris Osceola, Hollywood Councilman for the Tribe, Julio Iglesias Jr., and Big Kenny of the Grammy-winning duo Big & Rich. Salas and Kenny did a short set of hits in a new lobby lounge.
The next night, Maroon 5 christened the new Hard Rock Live venue that seats 7,000 in a clamshell state-of-the-art performance venue.
The newly-expanded and updated casino gaming area has 195,000 square feet of gaming space. The 13.5-acre lush pool and lagoon have open-air cabanas outfitted with flat-screen TVs, butler service, a full bathroom, and a private plunge pool.
The Rock Spa is a 42,000 square foot oasis that has hot and cold plunge pools, a salt inhalation room, a salon and a deluxe fitness center that overlooks the pool area. Dark woods with crystal rock décor add to the lush feel.
The new marble-floored shopping mall is a collection of high-end retail stores including a caviar store, high-end watches, diamond jewelry, and Hard Rock stores with leather jackets and studded t-shirts. Wentworth Gallery has exhibits dedicated to Paul Stanley of KISS and the late Ric Ocasek. Brian Wheat, the bassist of Tesla exhibited his newest realist work and posed for photos with guests.
The biggest attraction, the guitar-shaped hotel
The high-end design of the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock Guitar Hotel stuns the crowd with its mesmerizing skylights and LED lights on the outside and rock star memorabilia, sporty cars, and stage costumes line the cases on the walls on the inside.
The most wondrous element is in the main lobby – the Oculus — a circular waterfall fountain with holographic projections inside of guitars and rock stars, choreographed to music. It’s a stunner and was the site of an elevated red carpet with a huge video backdrop for the A-list celebrities.
Over in the new lounge was Julio Iglesias Jr. who has dabbled in Latin and country music and modeled for Versace alongside Miss Indian World and Miss Seminole.
At the event, the crowds moved out to the pool party where champagne, rum cocktails, buffets of lobster rolls and beef tenderloin, roasted pigs, dessert bars and cigar rollers awaited the gawking, strolling hordes. A Latin band played pop hits as mermaids floated by.
After the usual welcome and congratulatory speeches by hotel dignitaries and Seminole tribal council members, the Hard Rock Guitar Smash with all the A-listers signaled the official opening of the expansion.
“The Guitar Hotel will attract visitors from throughout the nation and around the globe,” said Jim Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming and Chairman of Hard Rock International. “They will experience world-class entertainment, gaming and dining destination.”
Allen has led the tribe’s gaming and hotel efforts for many years to multi-billion dollar success. The stunning Guitar Hotel is a prototype, with plans to build similar shaped hotels next in Japan, Mexico, and Spain. The unique curvaceous design has swimming pools on upper-level suites with palm trees and views all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
After the smash, the Guitar Hotel really came to life with a show-stopping light show extravaganza coordinated with orchestrated music and laser light shows that showcased the LED lights built into every side of the Guitar Hotel. The lights are programmed to change color and intensity, with changes timed to music. Six fixed high-powered beams of light that mimic guitar strings project 20,000 feet into the night sky.
Fireworks shot off the top as the crowds oohed and aahed. Don’t worry if you missed it, the Guitar Hotel Light Show will be a daily spectacular at dusk. “It really is special,” said Mitchell Cypress, vice chairman of the Seminole tribal council. “The Seminoles now are known throughout the world.”
Watching the whole spectacle was former Seminole Tribal councilman William Osceola, who attended in his beaded top hat, traditional silver jewelry, and patchwork vest. I asked the 67-year-old what he thought of all this.
He said, “You know I was born in a chickee hut in the Everglades, we had no electricity for years. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined the tribe would build something like this.”
The Guitar Hotel at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood
1 Seminole Way, Hollywood, Florida, 33314
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and has produced three films on Native musicians.
Correction: Seminole Tribal councilman William Osceola, was previously identified as 75 years of age. He is 67.