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Hard Rock Cafes still in business after sale Owner on U.S. side of falls cites lease

It will be business as usual at the Hard Rock Cafes on both sides of the border, despite the Seminoles' purchase of the Hard Rock Cafe empire and a pending lawsuit by the company that owns the restaurant near the brink of the American Falls.

"Regardless of the purchase of Hard Rock restaurants, there will be no effect on our unit in Niagara Falls," said David Cordish, president of the Cordish Co. of Baltimore, which owns the Hard Rock Cafe on the U.S. side of the falls. "There is a lease in place and that does not change."

The $965 million purchase by the Seminole Tribe of Florida was approved Monday by shareholders of the London-based Rank Group, which owns the Hard Rock empire -- 68 restaurants and retail stores, including 44 in the United States, 17 in Europe, three in Australia and one in Puerto Rico.

The purchase also includes Hard Rock franchises for an additional 56 restaurants and five hotels, including the cafe in Niagara Falls, Ont.

"We have a franchise agreement that would survive the sale," said Dino A. DiCienzo, vice president of Canadian Niagara Hotels, which operates the Hard Rock Cafe on the Ontario side.

The sale is expected to close by March 5.

"The intention of the Seminoles is to keep the existing management group in place," DiCienzo said Tuesday. "The people we deal with wouldn't change."

Meanwhile, still pending is a lawsuit by the Cordish Co. accusing the Seminoles and Hard Rock Cafe International management of secretly conspiring to lower the sale price in exchange for financial considerations and a promise of jobs for Hard Rock executives.

Financial analysts have put the purchase price at $300 million lower than some estimates.

The Cordish Co., which built the Seminole-operated Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos in Hollywood, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., in partnership with Coastal Development, said it wanted to buy the Hard Rock empire from the Rank Group and would have paid a higher price.

"We were denied the opportunity to bid," said Marty Steinberg, a Miami-based attorney for the Cordish Co. "We believe we would have prevailed."
The Seminoles, the first Indian tribe in the United States to have legalized gambling, becomes the first tribe to use gaming proceeds to buy an international company. Under the purchase agreement, they also gain ownership of the Hard Rock brand and the entire collection of music memorabilia.

The Cordish Co. also holds a long-term lease with the City of Niagara Falls, N.Y., for the downtown Rainbow Centre mall, a 200,000-square-foot building that has been mostly empty for the past six years, despite proposals by Cordish for its revitalization. A restaurant on the ground floor is the last remaining tenant.

Cordish continues to pay the city more than $100,000 a year for the building in a lease agreement that runs until 2056.


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