Swinerton In the News

Swinerton Builders Washington: August 14, 2014

Yakamas Plan $90 million Legends Casino Expansion

The freshly painted new parking lot is just the beginning. There’s a growing hole beside the Yakama Nation’s Legends Casino, as workers prepare the site for a new six-story, 200-unit hotel.

It’s the centerpiece of a long-planned $90 million expansion, which will include a full-service spa, expanded dining and gaming space and a renovated events center.

“We want to go from local gaming venue to a regional resort,” said assistant general manager Kristin Lumley. “We want to add to the tourism draw of the region.”

It’s a serious investment — the existing casino was built for just $9 million in the late 1990s. But Lumley said the tribe expects the expansion will help widen the casino’s appeal to people from as far as Portland and attract Seattle visitors heading into wine country.

But, she added, the upgrade should also benefit local patrons looking for a close-to-home getaway weekend or just additional gaming and dining options. Plus it will create hundreds of jobs — both in construction and permanent positions, she said.

The expansion is projected to be complete by winter 2016 and the casino expects to add about 200 jobs, bringing the total number of employees to 800. That will make Legends the 10th-largest private employer in the county, according to records compiled by New Vision, the Yakima County Development Association.

Adding those new jobs, which will largely go to tribal members, is the most exciting part of the project, according to Portia Shields, a member of the casino’s board of directors.

“This has been a long time coming for our people,” Shields said.

Building a hotel has been under discussion since the casino opened in 1998. Lumley said plans had to go back to the drawing board several years ago so the tribe could figure out how to keep the casino operating while an expansion was under construction.

“The biggest thing for us as a casino is not to disrupt the guests,” Lumley said. “It’s going to be a tough couple of years with a lot happening all at once.”

The Yakama Nation has declined to release casino revenues, but every year it gives away 0.5 percent of slot machine revenue to local charities, as set by the gambling compact with the state. In 2014, that totaled $400,000. This year, Legends also gave another $450,000 to local law enforcement agencies and the Toppenish Community Hospital.

Of the 21 tribal casinos in the state, about half already run hotels, including four-star hotels at the Kalispel tribe’s Northern Quest Resort in Spokane and the Tulalip Resort and Casino in Marysville.

“A number of tribes, including the Yakamas, are re-investing their gaming income in looking to diversify their economies,” said Rick Cocker, a public relations consultant who has previously worked on behalf of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.

But, with the exception of the Kalispel, all the resorts are in Western Washington. For gamblers in the Tri-Cities, Legends is about the same driving distance as the Umatilla’s Wildhorse Casino and resort in Pendleton, Ore.

Lumley said that Legend’s market research suggests that the expanded facility could appeal to people from as far as Seattle, Walla Walla and Portland.

“I would think that a hotel would be attractive, especially with people who like to visit the east side for wine, outdoor recreation and sunshine,” Cocker said.

Before the tribe could break ground on the new hotel, it needed to finish several preliminary projects.

Lumley said those included a new wastewater treatment plant for the Yakama Nation’s Toppenish campus, finished in 2008, a new day care center for employees’ children and hundreds of new parking spaces in front of the facility that were finished in July.

New parking is key because the hotel will be built on existing spaces along the casino building’s west side. The casino will also expand to the west, which will require the main entrance to be relocated to the right, displacing the current poker room. The poker room will temporarily be moved upstairs to the mezzanine.

The larger gaming space will have room for about 200 new slot machines and a new poker room.

Years ago, gaming took over the casino’s event space, but with the expansion, Lumley said that space will be renovated and used for everything from concerts to conferences.

The entire casino will eventually be renovated as part of this project, she said.

The updated buffet will have nearly 150 new seats, bringing the capacity to 375, and a new food court will seat 160.

The general contractor on the project is Swinerton Builders, a Seattle-based company.

Lumley said that the Yakama Nation decided to go with Swinerton because it has experience running a construction project that minimized interference with ongoing operation of the casino.

The tribe hired Zillah-based RJS Construction for the new employee day care center and the new parking lots, and the company will stay on board for additional work, Lumley said.

Legends Casino is asking for its guests’ patience during the process, Lumley said. If a favorite slot machine is relocated, staff should be able to find it, she added.

“It’s going to be exciting but there is going to be a lot of work happening over the next two years,” Lumley said.

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