Dania Jai-Alai fronton to be gutted

Dania Jai-Alai fronton to be gutted.
Residents of the quiet neighborhood that borders the Dania Jai-Alai fronton said they can hardly wait for the place to be stripped and rebuilt.

“If everything goes as planned, it will be a really great thing,” said Patty Hart, who grew up in east Dania Beach, in the shadow of the 58-year-old gaming house.

Bruce Hannover, a neighborhood resident for 22 years, remembers when Dania Jai-Alai was the crown jewel of Dania Beach. He hopes new ownership will restore that energy.

“We were here in the heyday of jai-alai,” when limousines and Cadillacs packed the grand entrance, Hannover said. “It was quite a show.”

Dania Entertainment Center, a corporation owned by a group of private investors, plans to completely renovate, reface and expand the 200,000-square-foot facility.

Plans include a 60,000-square-foot casino with 1,500 slot machines, a hotel with two swimming pools, and several restaurants, bars, lounges, poker rooms and modernized simulcast stations for horse and dog races.

Hallandale Beach-based architect Louis Birdman, one of four principals in Dania Entertainment Center, said the plans will likely come before the City Commission on Aug. 23. Birdman assured nearly 150 residents at a meeting Monday that jai-alai games will continue in a reconfigured space that will shrink the current 5,000-seat arena to a 1,600-seat theater.

The fronton playing area will be extended and the net will be retractable so the playing area can easily be converted to a performance stage for live entertainment.

There are also plans for a 60-slip marina with supporting shops and restaurants.

The project would likely create about 1,250 construction jobs and some 1,800 employees will be needed to operate the place, officials said.

Construction could begin in the fall.

Birdman said he hopes the casino expansion and renovation will be done by February 2013.

Hannover is betting the marina, on the Dania Beach Cut-Off Canal with no fixed bridges between the ocean and the marina, will put Dania Jai-Alai at the top of South Florida’s gaming houses.

“People can pull up in yachts, sailboats, anything on the water,” he said. “No other casino in South Florida can say that and that’s what makes a destination location.”

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