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Cowlitz Casino and Resort Celebrates 160-Year Perseverance of Cowlitz

Cowlitz Casino and Resort Celebrates 160-Year Perseverance of Cowlitz

The following content is featured in the Portland & S.W. Washington Spring 2016 edition of The Who’s Who in Building & Construction.

New Entertainment Venue Pulsates with Tribe’s Spirit

Cowlitz Casino and Resort Celebrates 160-Year Perseverance of Cowlitz

Land means identity, cultural heritage, a connection to the past, a future. These are not the typical specifications for building and construction, but then again the Cowlitz Casino and Resort is not your typical construction project. The premier new gaming and entertainment destination arises from a recently granted reservation for the Cowlitz Tribe. Once complete, the casino will feature gaming, dining, entertainment, and a meeting facility.

The project taking shape in southwestern Washington state occupies a part of the 152 acres making up the newest Native American reservation in the nation. The Cowlitz Tribe only officially gained U.S. recognition in 2000, after more than 160 years of effort. In 2010, the tribe’s reservation was established in Clark County near the city of La Center, Wash., by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“After 160 years of longing for a reservation within our aboriginal lands, I welcome all Cowlitz people to come home. We are no longer a landless tribe,” says William Iyall, Chair of the Cowlitz Tribe.

As one of the smallest tribes (3,000-plus members) in the nation, Cowlitz leaders desire to bring jobs, financial stability and services to their people now that land and status have arrived. They decided to build a casino and resort to generate the necessary profits. The tribe joined with the Salishan-Mohegan corporation (affiliated with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut) in the development of the project to improve their communities through economic investment and job growth, and to also preserve tribal heritage and foster environmental sustainability.

A unique tribal ceremony transformed the usual groundbreaking event. The celebration featured traditional Cowlitz and Mohegan spiritual rituals, drum circles, and a line of speakers who helped celebrate this important milestone. Approximately 500 people were in attendance, including representatives from the offices of U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, past and current state legislators, city officials, former Clark County commissioners, Clark County Fire and Rescue commissioners, local residents, and leaders of the Cowlitz and Mohegan tribes.

Transforming Farmland Into Casino-land

The resort casino is being built on rural land just two miles away from the city limits of La Center. Infrastructure work is a huge part of the equation since electricity, water and gas lines are needed. The design-build contract involves 50-plus subcontractors, including the effort to install a water reclamation system and build an overpass over Interstate 5, the busiest highway in the state.

“To build 360,000 square feet out on farmland, and having to provide all power and infrastructure at breakneck speed, is a challenge that we’re meeting head-on.” – Greg Evans, Project Executive, Swinerton Builders Seattle

Cowlitz Casino and Resort displays tribe heritage

A natural-looking color palette will complement finishes of stone, wood and zinc, and architectural elements and symbolic tribal artistry will display the tribe’s heritage, spirit and connection to the land.

Phase one of the three-phase project will be completed in spring 2017, with other phases to follow as needed. Swinerton Builders Seattle (Swinerton), the general contractor, immediately got started on the heavy infrastructure work under a condensed timeframe—building in 17 months instead of the usual 24 for a project of this size. The 128-year-old, employee-owned firm manages offices in seven states and provides construction management services in a variety of markets, including education, government, health care, hospitality, multi-family residential, power and energy, aviation, retail, office, and religious institutions.

Phase one is a mixed-use development with a 360,000-square-foot main structure housing the casino, bars, retail shops and eight restaurants, and a 3,000-space parking area. The Las Vegas-style casino alone encompasses 100,000 square feet. It will include 2,500 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, a meeting facility that seats 2,500, and more. This $180-million segment is expected to be completed in spring 2017.

Portland Cowlitz Casino and Resort VIP Lounge

The VIP Lounge will offer a relaxing social space for special guests to enjoy.

“To build 360,000 square feet out on farmland, and having to provide all power and infrastructure at breakneck speed, is a challenge that we’re meeting head-on,” says Greg Evans, Project Executive at Swinerton. The company’s background is ideally suited for this venture—Swinerton has worked with over 20 tribes throughout the U.S. on more than 100 projects.

For phase two, the tribe plans to build additional gaming areas, more parking and a hotel, and phase three involves further casino expansion. The entire project is estimated to total $510-million, and will bring approximately 250 short-term construction jobs to the area. Once opened, the casino is expected to create between 800 and 1,200 permanent jobs.

Improving Mobility and Reducing Waste

In conjunction with building the multi-use entertainment venue, the Cowlitz Tribe will also fund two major area improvements—the renovation of I-5’s junction and the addition of a water reclamation facility—to meet regulatory requirements.

A new overpass rising above I-5 will improve traffic flow and connect with nearby La Center. The $32-million highway project, spearheaded by national transportation firm Kittelson & Associates Inc., will involve extensive coordination with the state’s Department of Transportation.

A rare feature for any development, reclaimed water recycling is also planned for the casino using a high-tech treatment system that processes wastewater from the property into a reusable supply. Expected to meet the most stringent EPA requirements, the process uses biological and membrane filtration treatments before the reclaimed water is injected through 120 feet of soil underground, after which it is transfered into the natural groundwater system. Between 70,000 and 100,000 gallons of water will be treated daily once the casino is fully operational. Parametrix Inc. designed the water reclamation plant for the project.

Cowlitz Casino and Resort gaming floor

The Cowlitz Casino and Resort will include a 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, 2,500 slot machines, 75 gaming tables, restaurants, bars, retail shops, meeting facilities, and more.

Culture and Design

When patrons enter the new Cowlitz Casino property, they will observe architecture and interior design elements that display the tribe’s heritage, spirit and connection to the land. The structure’s silhouette is wavy like a rolling horizon; the natural color palette includes pinkish-orange hues of salmon, rich purple tones of berries, vibrant greens of fresh grass, and lustrous aqua blues to emulate water reflecting the sky.

Friedmutter Group Architecture and Design Studios (Friedmutter), an architecture firm that specializes in the gaming and hospitality industry, designed the casino. Interior and exterior components are organic contemporary with a Northwestern feel. “We knew we wanted modern, fresh, and cutting edge, but also wanted it tied to the land,” says Suzanne Couture, a Senior Designer at Friedmutter and the lead designer for the project. “Their culture is driven by organic features of the land.”

Building materials include wood, stone and zinc. Symbols of the Cowlitz culture will appear throughout the complex: canoes, woven hats, schools of fish and camas flowers. Designers created abstract versions of these cultural motifs to pay homage to the Cowlitz legacy. The elements work together to convey a “welcome home” message to the Cowlitz people and visitors alike.

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