Before Steelman graduated from Clemson with an architecture degree, there was only one city in the country where you could place a legal bet: Las Vegas.
Then, in 1976, New Jersey legalized casinos in Atlantic City.
As a native New Jersian, Steelman was attracted to the area. He’d had experience working under his father, also an architect, in Longport, New Jersey, doing smaller projects. Schools,
funeral parlors, summer homes. But he was ready for something bigger.
“I was offered a position as [Atlantic City] planner, and I took the job mainly because I wanted to see how this rebirth of the city was going to work,” Steelman says. “I was the architect of the city even though I wasn’t [working as] an architect at the time.”
Growing Atlantic City into a thriving resort destination meant working with some of the day’s most famous architects. Through them, Steelman got a glimpse of his dream career. And then he got a job offer from high-profile architect Joel Bergman. He worked for nine years on Vegas design projects like the Golden Nugget and the Mirage before opening his own architecture firm, Steelman Partners, in 1987.
Now, Steelman Partners has designed more than 4,000 casino and integrated resorts worldwide, including Galaxy Macau Phase II, Sands Macao and Solaire Resort & Casino. With so much
experience in the business, Steelman understands that a casino’s design must walk the fine line between brand culture and achieving profitability, versatility and ease.
“We have a lot of experience with what people like and are comfortable with, and we start from that experience.” Steelman explains. “We want to follow a set of rules.”
These rules consist of certain design elements that he doesn’t often stray from, things like fast elevators; soothing colors; easy access to exits, cashiers and restrooms; and ample lighting. The goal is to create a space that’s not only exciting for guests but also comfortable. Too much experimentation with core revenue features can lead to failure, Steelman
warns. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for creativity: “The direction of the columns of the garage or the color of the carpet or where you place a mirror — that’s the reason I became so interested in this [career]. It’s fun!”
Looking forward, Steelman isn’t even close to tapping out. “I’m not sure I ever want a break,” he says.
“Monday is always my favorite day of the week.”