Almost six years after plans were unveiled, construction has started on the future Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in south Ottawa.
On Tuesday, Hard Rock International executives, elected officials and local business leaders officially marked the groundbreaking of the new tourism and entertainment facility at the Rideau Carleton Casino.
Originally announced in 2017, the $350-million project will take over and expand the existing Rideau Carleton Casino.
It is love for family and pride for community that drove Charles Saikaley and his wife Majida to contribute $1 million to The Ottawa Hospital.
Jon Lucas, CEO of Hard Rock International, said the project will take the reputation and success of the original casino and bring it to a whole new level.
“We’re not just about gaming, we’re about entertainment,” said Lucas. “We’re about hospitality. I think we’re going to bring to the market great nightlife, great entertainment and great restaurants. There’s also that opportunity in our bar and cafe to show off local bands, and then, in our larger venue, to bring talent into the market. It just enhances what we’re currently doing on a grander scale, which would be great for the community.”
“It’s been a long, tedious process,” he added. “Obviously, interrupted by COVID and additional challenges of capital markets, costs of construction and supply chain challenges. The good news is we got past all those hurdles. We’re really excited to finally bring our brand to Ottawa.”
The challenges experienced in the interim meant the original plan announced in 2018 has been tweaked. The total cost of the project has increased and some features have been scaled back.
The site will feature a six storey, 150-room Hard Rock Hotel with 22 suites and retail shops, as well as seven restaurants and three bar and lounge areas, including the company’s Hard Rock Cafe, a Council Oak Steakhouse, and a YouYu Noodle Bar.
The new 24-7 gaming floor will have 1,500 slots, 40 live action table games, a baccarat room, and a sportsbook for variety gaming captions. It will also include a high-limit area with a lounge for VIP guests.
The new 1,800-seat Hard Rock Live theatre will host concerts, comedy shows and dance performances by locally and internationally known artists to the city.
The expansion is projected to be complete by July 2025, according to Lucas. It is expected to create nearly 1,900 construction and ongoing employment opportunities. Once operational, the facility will employ more than 700 workers.
In a press release, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said the new site could be a major driving force for the local economy.
“The new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino represents a significant investment in the south end of our city,” he said. “It will create new jobs and build on the existing attraction at Rideau Carleton Casino. I know many residents of the city are looking forward to enjoying this space and it will also be another great tourist attraction in Ottawa.”
Helen MacMillan, general manager of Rideau Carleton Casino, will continue in that role. She said she’s thrilled to celebrate the beginning of construction after years of delay.
“It’s been a longer journey than we anticipated,” she said. “The property was closed during the pandemic, when we actually had a groundbreaking date in April 2020. The project restarted in August of 2021, but the world changes increased significantly and supply chains were very, very challenging.”
As a recognizable brand, MacMillan anticipates that Hard Rock will not only cater to the existing local gaming market, but also draw in tourists from across the country.
“It’s going to be extremely valuable,” she said. “We describe ourselves as a world-class operation, a world-class brand. Anyone who walks through the doors will have that local feel. The experience is the focus for us.”
As the city’s only casino, the Rideau Carleton Casino was a small but significant contributor to local nightlife and entertainment. MacMillan said the new facility will be able to kick those contributions up a notch, just as Ottawa leaders focus on revitalizing the city’s nightlife scene.
“We’ll be providing that entertainment experience,” she said. “We’re welcoming people to the property and providing them with an experience that is different than if they go to a nightclub or go to have dinner downtown. A lot of guests say, ‘You know, we didn’t know about this and we now have options that we didn’t have before.’”
She added, “People talk about Ottawa having nothing to do, which I don’t agree with, but we certainly can help change that perspective.”