The Antiguo Casino de Puerto Rico — the majestic property that sits at the entrance of Old San Juan and has been the location for countless lavish wedding and social receptions — is now looking to catch the eye of the corporate sector, starting in 2019.
In an exclusive interview with this media outlet, Coral Marrero-Berríos, sales manager for the property that opened in 1917, said the goal is to fill up the calendar with weekday events by offering aggressive packages to compete with hotels.
“We’re preparing meeting packages that are competitive with other properties, as we know that hotels are coming back to the business after Hurricane María,” she said, confirming that the Antiguo Casino building withstood the wrath of the storm, with the exception of four windows that blew out in the ballroom with the Category 4-5 winds.
The property, which was turned over to the government in 1946, was once used as an officer’s club by the U.S. Army and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The Antiguo Casino is part of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District, which is managed by AEG Worldwide.
The catastrophic event paved the way for a complete remodeling of the historic windows, which she said has been time-consuming because as a historic building, all changes must be approved by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
“The windows can’t be made just anywhere. It has been a year-long process because there’s a shortage of materials and many buildings are being repaired,” she said.
The “Beaux Arts” architecture-style property has the capacity for 1,000 people divided into its three main rooms — two on its main floor and the ballroom on the second story. The offers to corporate clients will feature the use of the spaces, plus access to the full chef’s kitchen and wait staff, among other services, Marrero-Berríos said.
“We want to maintain that exclusivity for weddings and other social events, because it’s our target market, but we also want to get the word out that we’re here and we want to add the corporate segment,” she said.
The Antiguo Casino has already booked wedding and social events for every weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday —through the end of 2019. The minimum consumption required for weddings is $15,000, plus the 22 percent applicable tax.
For meetings, that requirement drops to a minimum of $5,500 for events scheduled from Monday to Thursday, Marrero-Berríos said.
“Hotels charge 23 percent to 24 percent tax, so we’re slightly lower,” she said.
As for the issue of parking, which the Antiguo Casino lacks, Marrero-Berríos said AEG has reached an agreement with the Treasury Department for the use of its parking facilities. The Antiguo Casino offers valet service to the lot.
The Antiguo Casino already sees some business from groups and meetings that use the Puerto Rico Convention Center for their activities during the day but want a more exclusive space for their after-hours gatherings, she said.
To go after that market, Marrero-Berríos said talks are already underway with Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s Destination Marketing Organization, and destination management companies that bring groups from Europe and other places.
“If we schedule at least one corporate event during the week to start, it would be perfect,” she said, adding the corporate packages should be released in late January or early February.
“When these companies use the Antiguo Casino for their events, they’re using a part of Puerto Rico’s patrimony, and they’re moving the economy,” she said. “Every time we have an event here, we hire a minimum of 80 people. The money stays here.”