To the beating of drums and dancing and the chanting of sacred songs, the Muckleshoot Tribe broke ground on its 18-story, 400-room, luxury hotel tower on Sept. 5, heralding the first major addition to its casino since the gaming establishment opened 24 years ago at 2402 Auburn Way S.
When the Muckleshoot Casino Resort opens for business in the second quarter of 2021, it will be the largest of its kind in Washington state, besting Tulalip, which today, at 12 stories and with 370 rooms, is the biggest casino and casino resort hotel in the state.
“This is a very momentous day for the tribe, and this is truly a tribal day as we start these proceedings and we move forward,” said Conrad Granito, a 30-plus year veteran of tribal gaming in the state and for the last five years, general manager of the Mucklehoot Casino.
“When I got here, there was a promise I made to the tribe that we would take this operation to another level, and take it and make it consistently. We’ve done that,” Granito said. “And what you’re seeing today is not the culmination of that, but the next step in taking Muckleshoot to a whole different level of experience, not only for the tribe, but for all the guests in the community that it serves.”
The project, which will add about 20,000 square feet of gaming space to the tribal complex, capped by a rooftop restaurant, is one part of the significant casino upgrade and expansion that the tribe announced in February, encompassing a new, overall floor plan, expanded food options, a 25,000-square-foot events center and a bigger smoke-free area.
Tribal Chairman Jason Elkins recalled a conversation he had with a former council member who had described to him how things on the reservation were prior to gaming: bad economy, no jobs, few educational opportunities and substandard housing.
“With good leadership and wisdom and direction from our elders, we now have a state-of-the-art health care center, we have a state-of-the-art school, we have our own water and sewer department, we have our own waste management now. So all the revenue that’s generated here at the casino is reinvested into our programs and services, and I want to thank our tribal council and our community and our elders for that direction,” Elkins said.
Tribe and casino officials would not discuss the cost of the project, but in May the tribe acknowledged that the enhanced casino and resort hotel reflect the tribe’s need to respond to “guest demand” and “a widening customer base,” no doubt with a competitive eyed on the Tulalip Tribe’s $140 million QuilCeda Creek Casino and 150-room hotel, which is under construction.
Tribal officials said they expected the unfolding evolution of the tribe’s gaming property to ensure it will continue to invest in its people.
“We’ve got a couple big pieces on the board now, and the challenge in any type of renovation always is how do things make sense, how do they fit with the real estate we have?” Granito said. “You can see the progress in the level of finish of the casino floor, which is now being totally renovated, like everything else in the current casino. The events center comes online first, then the new food court, and then the hotel itself. So, yes, we’ve got a few areas we could make some enhancements beyond that, but let’s see what the market tells us.”
Granito noted that the Muckleshoot Casino lies between the future hotel and the fireworks discharge area. Sixty percent of the rooms will face to the southeast, away from the discharge area so they won’t hear much, but the remaining rooms that do face the discharge area would hear, he said. The nerves of hotel clientele may require an adjustment or two, Granito acknowledged, but whatever that turns out to be is a conversation for another day.
In the meantime, the Muckleshoot has studied and learned from the Tulalip Tribe’s handling of its hotel-discharge area issue.
“If you book a room at the Tulalip Hotel from Memorial Day through July 4, it says on their website that the tribe has fireworks sales, and if you stay on this side of the hotel, you’ll very likely hear it before they cut it off around 10 p.m. I think we’ll have similar discussions up here. We’d notify them on the website before they make a reservation for fireworks season,” Granito said of the reservation period, which begins on Memorial Day and ends on July 4.
“I think you’ll probably see some limitations of hours, saying, ‘cut it off at this or that point.’ I will say there are no plans on discontinuing the fireworks show; everybody loves the fireworks show,” Granito said. “I think you’ll probably see some cutting of hours and things that for the actual day, which is just like Tulalip does. That’s the only one I have to make reference to, because, literally, theirs is actually closer to the hotel than ours is.”
Granito hopes the remodeled and expanded casino will become a first-class, go-to spot to play and stay.
“I want people to see Muckleshoot Casino Resort as a place to come to, a regional destination, a drop-off point, a jump-off point to Mount Rainier or other things in South King County,” Granito said. “We want people to say, ‘Hey, I’ve come to Seattle, let’s go to Muckleshoot.’ So I think with the hotel, the events center, and with the different amenities that we’re going to have, I think that opportunity’s there.”