Officials give more details on Tacoma casino

Over one hundred City Club of Tacoma members and guests turned out at the University of Puget Sound’s Wheelock Student Center Wednesday night to hear more about Tacoma’s newest tourist attraction: a casino and resort on the south side of Interstate 5 off the Portland Avenue exit.

“The Puyallup Tribe is going to build a $200 million casino that will attract a lot of people,” said tribal spokesman John Weymer.

Plans for the complex – tentatively named Cascades Resort & Casino – include a 12-story, 250-room hotel, with a dozen restaurants, all designed with a Northwest flavor.

For example, one of the restaurants will feature stained glass kelp hanging down from the ceiling and tables shaped like tropical fish, explained Bill Morris of Morris & Brown Architects, project designer.

Morris & Brown, the tribe’s choice of architects, is known for its themed developments, and has designed many casinos across the nation.

Built on 22.5 acres, the complex will have a Pacific Northwest and Native American theme and feature a man-made lake and various waterfalls.

The project also includes a 2,000-seat entertainment arena and a 600-seat theater that will feature Las Vegas-style entertainment.

Directly below the casino will be two parking rings with room for 3,000 cars.

“The casino itself is going to be glitz-and-glamour-Las-Vegas,” Morris said, while describing the interior as a Northwest village.

The exterior of the casino will be constructed of glass and stone.

“The project is quite exciting for us,” Morris said.

The project is also exciting for Tacoma and the Puget Sound region.

“It’ll be big,” Morris said of the economic impact of the project, adding it would have a ripple effect throughout the community.

“Our market area for this project could expand to include a 75-mile area,” he said.

The casino complex is projected to employ between 2,500 and 3,000 people, Weymer said, adding that the tribe is in the process of conducting an economic study on how the project would affect the region.

James Rockar, vice president of Walton Construction, the company that will build the casino, said his company would do all it could to hire local workers for the project.

Weymer described the casino complex as a nice accent to the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center that broke ground on Friday.

Seeking to alleviate concerns about any potential negative effects on local nonprofit groups – by drawing gamblers away from charity activities like bingo – Weymer pointed out that the casino might actually help those organizations.

“Last year we gave away $2.4 million to nonprofits,” he said.

Mayor Bill Baarsma, who was on hand for the event, seemed optimistic.

“I think the key word is collaboration,” he said. “I think it’s important the city work with the tribe.”

The first phase of construction will be demolishing the six-story tribal administration building, formerly Cushman Veterans Hospital, in January 2003.

Several other smaller structures also will be removed and a major earth-moving project will resculpt the site to form a lake.

The bingo hall will probably stay open through most of the construction,Weymer said, and then move to a location within the new building.

The project is set to be completed about 24 months from now, Morris said.