Swinerton In the News

Swinerton Builders Seattle: June 20, 2016

Cowlitz Tribe picks tribal word for new casino name

RIDGEFIELD —The Cowlitz Tribe’s $510 million casino now has a name — Ilani, which is the Cowlitz language word for “sing.”

Tribal leaders said the word captures the spirit of their heritage while setting the casino apart from others in the region. Ilani also is meant to symbolize the tribe’s perseverance through 160 years of landlessness, as it fought to secure formal recognition and a reservation.

“(Ilani) is a memory of the song we sang throughout the centuries in a journey to this time. And it means so much to us to know that in all of our songs we did not have a song for defeat, so we never learned how to give up,” said Tanna Engdahl, Cowlitz spiritual leader, while wearing a traditional woven hat at a press conference Monday.

The tribe considered a host of names, said casino project founder David Barnett, but it intentionally avoided English names such as creek, spirit, river or lake, joking that “all of those were taken.”

“(Ilani) is a tribal word that has a great feel to it. We always carry songs with us,” Barnett said. He added the tribe hopes casino customers will “find the ilani within themselves.”

The new logo features swoops of navy blue, gold and white meant to represent salmon, rivers and a canoe.

“Today we reveal a new identity for this project: a brand identity and visual representation of an experience that will provide an escape from our everyday routine and bring our spirits to life,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager of Ilani, in a prepared statement.

On Monday the 368,000-square-foot casino was continuing to take shape. Screeching manlifts hoisted up steel frames, and beeping bulldozers were a noisy backdrop to the press conference. Roofing is complete, and a large swoop forming the face of the casino is blanketed in bright orange coverings. In the distance, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams peeked out from behind clouds in a view that casino guests will see from many of the casino’s restaurants.

Ilani will host job and vendor fairs this summer or fall as it prepares to hire 1,000 employees. Fox-LaRose said there are many career opportunities with the resort beyond traditional
casino jobs.

“I still have people ask if I’m (going to be) a dealer or a beverage server,” Fox-LaRose said. ”They really don’t understand the vast … opportunities” including positions marketing, human resources, tech support, administrative roles, hospitality and facilities management.

Ilani also will offer non-gaming entertaininment with retail shops, 15 restaurants and a convention space capable of seating 2,500 people. It will have a sports bar, a craft brew pub and a lounge, where Ilani hopes to host nationally-known acts.

Construction crews with Swinerton Builders of Portland are on schedule, and the Ilani is slated to open late spring 2017. Crews have also started a $32 million project to upgrade the freeway interchange to prevent traffic congestion.

Even as construction of the casino rumbles on, the tribe still is awaiting a decision from a federal appeals court in an ongoing case challenging their right to that reservation.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Interior created a 156 acre casino between Ridgefield and La Center. In an attempt to block the casino from being built, opponents — including Clark County, Citizens Against Reservation Shopping and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde — sued Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. In December 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein sided with Jewell.

Opponents appealed the decision last February, and a decision is expected this summer. Opponents argue that the reservation is well outside traditional Cowlitz territory. They’ve argued the development will encourage reservation shopping, clog traffic and put a burden on area housing and schools. Others are concerned with the casino’s wastewater reclamation project involves drilling injection wells into the ground above the Troutdale Aquifer that supplies Clark County’s water.

In late May, the City of Vancouver formally withdrew from the case. Now the city and the tribe are apparently working together on cross promotion projects, such as encouraging casino customers to stay at the Vancouver Hilton while the tribe waits to build its own hotel attached to the casino in next few years, said Tribal Chairman Bill Iyall.

Clark County also hasn’t issued any additional work stop orders against the project in recent weeks. But the spirit of cooperation hasn’t bloomed fully yet, as the county says it doesn’t plan on pulling out of the legal case.

“I do think if you look around the country, the federal courts tend to view cases of this nature favorable from the tribe’s point of view,” said Mark McCauley, acting Clark County manager.”Do we have 50/50 chance? I would hesitate to guess either way how it’s going to turn.”

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