November 27, 2014

Protested Poarch Creek casino expansion nearing completion

 

WETUMPKA, Ala. (AP) – Early next year, residents and visitors of Wetumpka not only will be able to gaze at a towering hotel standing tall over the city’s downtown area, they will be able to stay there.

Wind Creek Wetumpka, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ $246 million hotel and casino, is on schedule to be completed in early 2014.

The casino construction project has been under fire from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma, along with traditionalists in Alabama, for its potential desecration of Hickory Ground, a pre-removal sacred site and burial ground.

General Manager Cody Williamson said the outer shell of the 20-story hotel is “pretty much completed,” with inner fixtures such as Sheetrock and windows currently going in at the site off U.S. 231 about nine miles northeast of Montgomery in Elmore County.

“And even when you’re finished with that, there’s still the load-in of items like tables, chairs and clocks,” Williamson said. “That takes a lot of time, especially when you get into hotels. Faucets, sinks, showers – it just takes a long time.”

While finishing touches still are being put on the hotel, which has an estimated February or March opening, Williamson said the casino will be open much sooner.

“We know we wanted to have the casino floor open by the end of the year,” Williamson said. “That’s a goal that we had, and we seem to be on track with that.”

He explained that the casino can be opened before the hotel because it sits separate from the hotel. There’s an entrance hub connecting the two and serving as a gateway to either destination.

A recent walking tour of the casino floor showed workers installing lights and painting walls. Williamson pointed out areas that will be used for dining and the spot in the middle of the room where an aquarium will sit. The 90,000-square-foot gaming floor will feature more than 2,500 electronic gambling machines, compared with about 900 available at Creek Casino Wetumpka, the site’s current facility.

Williamson said that eventually the front part of the current casino will be torn down, but the larger back part will be kept as an events center.

During a recent tour of the hotel, Williamson pointed out an area where a pool will be built about October. The resort is expected to include about 285 rooms and suites, a fine dining restaurant, a grill, a coffee shop, a snack bar and a buffet with seating overlooking the river. There also will be entertainment rooms suitable for large parties and corporate events.

Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis said the city’s preparation for the hotel and casino has “gone well.” The city and Poarch Creeks are working together so they’ll be ready for any possible snag that might accompany the opening.

“We have communication lines open with them. We keep them posted, and they do the same for us,” Willis said. “All in all, it’s been pretty smooth.”

Both the city and the Elmore County Commission in March funded an economic impact study to look at the overall effect the gaming center has had and will have on the surrounding area. The study has since been completed, but city and county officials said they could not provide the Montgomery Advertiser with a copy.

City Attorney Regina Edwards said the results of the study are being used in a negotiation between PCI and both the city and county for future services.

The study was commissioned to determine the additional costs the city and county might incur because of the expansion.

The current Creek Casino Wetumpka includes property that sits on trust land, a term used for land owned by an Indian tribe. The trust land in this case is owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and is not subject to taxes by any other government. Wind Creek Wetumpka also will sit on trust land.

The only portion of the current facility that sits on fee simple land – land that produces ad valorem taxes – is the parking deck. Williamson said the parking deck also is undergoing an expansion and will be upgraded from 500 parking spots to 2,500.

Williamson said the casino and hotel are expected to bring in 500 to 600 jobs with an increased payroll of $20 million.


Jimmy Deer, second chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Greenleaf Ceremonial Grounds (left) and Frank Coachman, Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council representative for the Okfuskee District hold signs protesting the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ casino expansion on Tuesday, Sept. 18 outside the federal building in downtown Tulsa.

FILE PHOTO

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