Daryl V. Rowland

NORTHFIELD: When the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park opened its expansive glass doors Dec. 18 — marked by the ceremonial smashing of guitars — it revealed a design that had been carefully crafted to suit the tastes and preferences of Northeast Ohio.

According to its developers, the Rocksino is built to feel like an entertainment destination first and a casino second.

“What makes this location unique,” said Jon Lucas, president of Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield, “is that you’ve got all kinds of entertainment and dining options. It’s not just a casino. And it’s equidistant from Akron and Cleveland.”

Lucas said officials want the racino to feel both casual and comfortable.

“We like to say ‘comfortable contemporary,’?” he said. “It’s not outrageous contemporary. It’s not intimidating. It takes a lot of people with a lot of experience knowing what works and what doesn’t work.”

Lucas mentioned the chandeliers, with LEDs that change colors, as an example of a feature designed to draw positive attention.

“People are going to go, ‘Wow.’ There’s a lot of great lines, attention to detail. We do mock-ups and testing. Colors are important. The look and flow of the facility are all important.”

Joe Emanuele, vice president of design and development, oversaw the ambitious construction that was completed in a little over a year.

“We’re about music at Hard Rock,” he said. “So what we tried to do is sync the look with the different eras of music here in Cleveland. The memorabilia is where you really start out. We wanted to create a sense of arrival when you walk in. Hopefully we’ve been successful.”

The restaurants and the music and comedy venues have been given as much attention as the 2,200 slot machines, or video lottery terminals (VLTs) as the state calls them.

Brock Milstein, the Rocksino’s chairman and whose family has long owned the racing facility that is now part of the casino complex, has been working to create a casino at this location for 15 years. He said the whole casino industry has changed dramatically in recent years.

“It’s now more regional and local as opposed to a destination resort type of place. So you design it a little differently for the people right here,” he said.

“There are certain elements that are more about convenience. Like the fact that it’s all on one level. The fact that we have 360 degrees of parking with 3,000 spaces. The fact that there are three entrances to the property — two self-park entrances and the valet entrance. All the amenities surround the gaming floor.”

Milstein said the Northfield racino also tried to create a bit of a “lifestyle feel.” When guests approach the building in the warmer months, there will be planters and tables and chairs and umbrellas.

“It’s a little bit different than that gigantic building kind of feel that has been historically done in the gaming industry,” he said.

“I think we had an advantage here in me living here my whole life. I kind of know what Clevelanders like, what kind of developments they’re attracted to,” Milstein said. “So, for example, we decided not to do a parking garage. Because if you’re from here, you know that people really don’t enjoy going into parking garages.”

Milstein pointed out that the story of rock ’n’ roll begins in Northeast Ohio, where disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term.

“The concept was to create a center bar, almost like a DJ booth, with the sound coming from that. If you look at the ceiling, it’s kind of like sound waves emanating from a DJ booth,” he said.

“We wanted a ‘wow factor’ when you come in. So we did the whole front with floor-to-ceiling frameless glass doors. We did the guitar handles. We wanted to build something that makes you feel like you’re somewhere special.”

The Rocksino’s entertainment venues include the Hard Rock Live, a concert-style music hall that seats about 1,800 people, and The Club, with 320 seats, which will showcase comedians, illusion acts, private parties and music.

Akron resident Brandon Hadley said he was drawn to opening night because of the Hard Rock brand.

“I like going to Cleveland’s Hard Rock Cafe,” he said.

“There’s a lot of stuff, different restaurants to choose from. I like that they have the concert venue right next to the casino. It’s really nice and clean — with all the memorabilia, and you’ve got cool music in the background.”

Mallory Houdek of Northfield said that, as a neighbor, she wants to support the racino.

“I hope something positive and good comes from it,” she said. “Between dining and concerts and gambling, it’s all good. And what’s in Northfield, Ohio? The Ford plant — and now it’s closed down. So maybe this will build a good name for the area again.”