A rendering of the future Hard Rock Hotel in Downtown Long Beach. Courtesy of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In person, the announcement that a Hard Rock Hotel was coming to Downtown Long Beach was met with nothing but fanfare: A band played and guests sipped drinks as the mayor and other city leaders touted the brand’s arrival as a major coup. Online, the reception was a different story.

When the news broke, social media commenters were quick to complain that another hotel was the last thing they needed Downtown — maybe a grocery store, affordable housing or some more support for mom-and-pop shops would be a better fit than a giant corporate brand.

Who exactly, “is in charge of these selections?” asked one of the hundreds of people disparaging the news.

The answer to that question may be more economic than human. Even as some locals doubt the wisdom of Hard Rock arriving, local experts in the tourism industry say there’s no question about the financial benefit it will bring by drawing tourists — and their wallets — to town.

Just down the coast in San Diego, for instance, the 420-room Hard Rock Hotel that opened in 2007 has been “a strong and valued partner” in convincing people to visit, according to San Diego Tourism Authority spokesperson Paul Garcia.

“It has consistently proven to be a popular location with meeting professionals due to its impressive meeting and event space,” said Garcia, who noted its location in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter and within walking distance to numerous restaurants, shops and the city’s convention center makes it a visitor favorite.

In Long Beach, the hope is to replicate that success. The 31-story, 429-room Hard Rock Hotel is set to be built on the southeastern corner of Ocean Boulevard and Pine Avenue, one of the busiest intersections in the city. When it opens in 2027, the glass tower will be a short walk from the Convention Center as well as restaurants and shops at the Pike and along Pine Avenue.

The parking lot and Jergins Tunnel set to soon be a Hard Rock Hotel on Ocean Blvd and Pine Ave in Long Beach Thursday, November 9, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

At a macro level, the importance of tourism in Long Beach cannot be overstated, according to Robert Kleinhenz, an economics faculty member and director of the Office of Economic Research at Cal State Long Beach. In 2022, 25,000 people worked in the tourism sector, he said, which accounts for about 15% of all wage and salary jobs in the city.

Despite only blossoming in the last several decades, tourism has become a vital industry for the city, Kleinhenz said — and Hard Rock will surely contribute to the sector. He noted that the convention business is growing and capacity is needed to accommodate it.

The ripple effects of more people visiting the city and staying Downtown will be felt throughout Long Beach’s economy, Kleinhenz explained.

“They not only pay for their hotel, they visit restaurants to pick up food, they go to retail stores to pick up trinkets and other things, they use other services,” Kleinhenz said, adding visitors often stop by other neighborhoods such as Belmont Shore and see attractions like the Aquarium of the Pacific. All these expenses generate tax dollars for the city, he noted.

“So Hard Rock is a catalyst,” Kleinhenz said. “And having a brand-name hotel is important because people value having that brand affiliation. There’s a familiarity that people have with these brands that leads them to prefer them, … presumably with an assurance of quality.”

Kleinhenz said Hard Rock’s decor of music memorabilia will be a “huge attraction” to music fans, adding just another element to draw people to the city.

Additionally, Kleinhenz noted the hotel will activate a space that has sat vacant for more than three decades following the 1988 demolition of the Jergins Trust Building.

Lee Blecher, a professor in and co-director of the Hospitality Management Program at Cal State Long Beach, said the Hard Rock and the hundreds of jobs it will bring are a welcome addition. His students use local hotels to gain their work experience as part of the program. After graduation, students also will have another location to find full-time jobs, he said.

While Long Beach, and Downtown in particular, has a wide variety of hotels, including major brands like Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott, Blecher said Hard Rock will stand out as something different that will complement the established tourism landscape — as well as provide some healthy competition.

“It’s a really nice hotel that’s going to be unique with international recognition,” Blecher said. “I think it will put Long Beach even more on the map.”

To the naysayers, Blecher noted the Hard Rock brand is evolving beyond its namesake, embracing all forms of music to better serve a diverse clientele.

“I think it’s going to be pretty hip,” he said.