Cowlitz tribe breaks ground on hotel at ilani

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Members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, alongside ilani staff, officially broke ground on a 14-story, nearly 300-room hotel on the tribe’s reservation Friday, April 23, heralding the next phase of expansion a day before the four-year anniversary of the grand opening of the casino.

Among a crowd featuring numerous members of the tribe, casino staff, and local government officials, the Cowlitz celebrated the ceremonial start of construction on the latest project for the reservation. The luxury hotel is expected to open in 2023, with amenities including a full-service luxury spa, a pool and a top-floor restaurant.

Las Vegas-based Friedmutter Group is the architect and Portland-based Howard S. Wright is the general contractor for the hotel. The hotel will be the sixth phase of expansion for ilani since it opened April 24, 2017. Beginning with a nearly 100,000-square-foot gaming floor, bars, restaurants, and retail space, the casino property added meeting and entertainment space, a gas station and a parking garage. An upcoming expansion for the casino and restaurant space is expected to be completed this summer.

Numerous speakers representing the Cowlitz, the builders, and others gave speeches at the event, which concluded with the ceremonial digging into the land by an excavator. Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager of ilani, said the hotel will be designed in pursuit of a four-diamond designation from the American Automobile Association, the first such designated property in Clark County. She said construction was expected to take about 23 months, meaning the hotel would be complete in time for ilani’s sixth anniversary, should all go according to plan.

Apart from the hotel, Fox-LaRose said the ongoing work comprising the casino’s fifth expansion will feature more than 200 slot machines, a high-limit gaming pit, a 90-seat Asian restaurant, and another restaurant where patrons can bet on sports, now allowed under recent state legislation.

Among the speakers was Ridgefield Mayor Don Stose, who praised the quality of ilani’s development thus far.

“ilani has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have brought a five-star gaming facility to Ridgefield, a five-star entertainment facility to Ridgefield, five-star restaurants to Ridgefield, and now a five-star hotel,” Stose said.

Stose mentioned Ridgefield had been approached by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association about potentially hosting tournaments at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex which opened in 2019. The only issue was the lack of a nearby hotel to host teams.

“Today we are going to celebrate that final piece we need to bring those student-athletes to Ridgefield,” Stose said.

Cowlitz Indian Tribe Vice Chairman David Barnett reflected on the hardships tribal members have faced in the wake of COVID-19, framing the hotel in the lens of an economic driver that will be to the benefit of Cowlitz distressed by the pandemic. He noted the Cowlitz will be providing input on the cultural aspects of the hotel, saying ultimately the hotel belonged to the tribe.

“I look at the hotel ... it’s going to be glamorous, it’s going to be amazing, and we’re going to own it,” Barnett said. “Every one of you Cowlitz, this is yours, this is your land.”

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