SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
An estimated 1,000 people showed up at the first day of a job fair for the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to apply for nearly 700 full-time positions.
TAMPA - Economists and Wall Street veterans say the long-sluggish economy is picking up.
Yet hundreds of Tampa Bay residents rose before dawn Saturday to apply for jobs with the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, suggesting the economy has a way to go before it's robust again.
Donna Roeder arrived at the Tampa Convention Center, where she works at the concierge desk, 20 minutes before 7 Saturday morning.
A line of job seekers was waiting for her - more than two hours before the daylong job fair began.
"You know, they say the economy is on the incline," said Herman Broxton, a career consultant with Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. "But this just shows you people are still looking for work."
By 9:15 a.m., more than 500 people were sitting in a room filling out applications for the hotel and gambling complex, which is scheduled to open in March at Orient Road and Interstate 4.
Dozens more waited in a line that snaked through the convention center lobby. And as the clock struck 11, they kept coming.
Officials predicted that by day's end, they would see more than 1,000 applicants.
"These people are serious," Roeder said. "They really want to work."
The group at the job fair ranged from college students nearing graduation to graying workforce veterans recently laid off.
They drove from Riverview, Palm Harbor, St. Petersburg and Gulfport.
Many came in suits; others came in shorts or jeans.
Some brought crisp-looking resumes tucked into briefcases.
Just as many were armed with only wallets or purses, but lots of eager potential.
A number of Hard Rock hopefuls brought with them experience in the hospitality and casino business. But many just came with a mixture of curiosity and hope after hearing radio ads touting the broad mix of 671 full-time positions.
Whitney Brundage, 21, a student at the University of Florida, won't graduate from her sociology studies until May.
Yet there she was in line Saturday morning, wearing a crisp pant suit and a big smile as she went over her application.
"I'm just looking at what's available," she said. "I didn't really know what to expect."
The job fair included four stages.
Applicants filled out paperwork, then sat down with company representatives to have it reviewed. Then they met with one of 10 screeners who went over their qualifications and discussed the most suitable positions. Finally, if deemed qualified, they sat down for interviews with one of 40 casino officials.
Those hired took drug tests and filled out gaming license applications on the spot, so they could start work right away.
"In a hotel-casino environment, you're kind of like a little city," said John P. Fontana, general manager for the hotel and casino. "You need everything."
The 250-room hotel and 90,000-square-foot casino will feature a spa and seven restaurants.
It will need cooks, card dealers, servers, bartenders, massage therapists, manicurists, managers, housekeepers and security guards.
The first phase of the $100-million complex opened in June, along with a 1,600-space parking garage and Floyd's, an upscale restaurant and nightclub.
The second phase, the hotel and other restaurants, will open before March 15, Fontana said.
The complex will accommodate as many as 20,000 visitors a day.
It is being built in phases so the Seminole Casino, in operation since the early 1980s, doesn't have to close during construction.
The old operation employed about 450 people and had about 8,000 visitors a day.
In all, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will employ 2,500 people with a combined annual payroll of about $40-million, managers say.
Lenny Washington, 43, of Tampa, hopes to be part of that payroll. He arrived Saturday dressed sharply in a dark gray suit, briefcase firmly in hand.
He was recently laid off, after 23 years as a sales vice president.
"This will be a unique experience for me," he said as he waited to have his application reviewed. "I've been the interviewer for over 20 years. Now I'm on the other side."
- Information from Times files contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or email@example.com