ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — After years of anticipation, construction is finally underway at Rockford’s permanent Hard Rock Casino.
Officials held a groundbreaking on Wednesday.
It has been three years since the passage of an Illinois law cleared the way for Rockford to gain a casino, and put the city in a pitched race against a competing casino project in Beloit.
Hard Rock opened a temporary casino in Rockford, at 610 N Bell School Road.
John Groh, the president and CEO of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the Hard Rock brand and the location of the casino, right off of I-90, will attract more people to the city.
“Right now, the opening act is seeing visitation from beyond 90 miles and even across the country. We know that when the permanent casino is open, those numbers will increase. The pool, or area which people come from, will increase and be significant,” he said.
Groh said that based on projections, the $310 million project will be worth it.
Geno Iafrate, president of Hard Rock Rockford, says the casino will need about 1,000 employees.
Hard Rock International recently raised wages company wide, saying the wage increases would begin September 22nd and vary based on positions but could be up to $3 an hour for hourly employees, and up to $5,000 annually for salaried employees.
Iafrate says it is important to him that his team have a liveable wage.
“Maybe you could get a little bit better place to live, maybe you could provide better for your family, maybe you could buy a car and not be on public transportation anymore,” he said. “There’s a variety of reasons that it just made sense to do. And across the entire company, we’re spending $100 million dollars in voluntarily increasing our minimum starting wage throughout Hard Rock.”
Locally, it will cost the casino a little over $2 million to fulfill the commitment of higher wages.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said he was proud to be able to witness the impact the project is already having on the community.
“[So far it has provided] 800 to 1,000 construction jobs, 600 to 800 full-time jobs, an average wage of $50,000 (a year),” McNamara said. “Today, already more than 200 kids are going to Northern Illinois University, tuition-free, for four years. Seventy percent of them are first-generation college-going students. Seventy percent of them are kids of color. Don’t tell me it’s not good for Rockford!”
There is no set date for the opening of the new casino, but representatives say it will take less than 3 years to build. Iafrate says there are still plans to add a hotel, but it will be in phase two of the construction project.