Harrah’s Cherokee Casino builds the future

The Cherokee Nation and Harrah’s pulled out all the stops to mark start of construction on a third hotel tower at the tribe’s casino — an addition that will make the property the largest hotel in the state.

The $633 million work is also the largest construction project in the state, according to Lynn Minges, assistant secretary of tourism, marketing and global branding, who came from Raleigh for the breakfast event and groundbreaking last Friday (July 10).

Also speaking at the event were Principal Chief Michell Hicks of the Eastern Band of Cherokees; Norma Moss, chair of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise; Darold Londo, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel; John Payne, Central Division president of Harrah’s Entertainment; and Ken Leach, executive vice president of Turner Construction, the company building the hotel tower.

At a breakfast before the groundbreaking, Hicks expressed his view that the massive expansion effort — adding 532 luxury rooms — will grow and transform the property into “a world-class entertainment and tourism destination.” He also noted that the timing of the project is fortuitous.

“Despite the economy, the expansion will position the property perfectly — and ahead of the competition — when the economy rebounds and we can welcome new customers anxious for world-class entertainment, accommodations and service,” said Hicks.

Hicks praised all those whose vision helped lead to undertaking the project, and thanked family, friends, fellow officials and other supporters for their help. At one point in his remarks he acknowledged getting “choked up” as he saw how Cherokee was creating a brighter future for current members and their descendants.

Elected officials from around the region who attended the event included Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy and county and town commissioners from surrounding Western North Carolina counties.

Upon completion in 2012, the third tower on the 37-acre property will incorporate luxury accommodations and high-end suites, a 3,000-seat events center, entertainment and VIP lounges, a 16,000-square-foot spa, an all new state-of-the-art digital poker room, an Asian gaming room, a variety of new restaurant and retail outlets, and new hotel and casino parking garages.

Harrah’s Cherokee is also renovating its current casino facilities and doubling the size of its casino floor to 150,000 square feet while increasing video and table game capacity. The design of the new facilities will utilize the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s large and important collection of Native American art portraying local culture. Significant investment is also being made in sophisticated technology and an array of group services ranging from business and conference support to elaborate catering services.

Turner Construction, the tower’s builder, is a leader in its field in the United States, with construction volume of $10.8 billion in 2008. Other major Turner construction projects include Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden, as well as the Burj Dubai in United Arab Emirates, the tallest high-rise in the world. The tower was designed by Cunningham Group of Minneapolis, Minn.

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