“It was done for a very good reason, and that’s to take pressure off the budget,” Rose said.
Rose declined to say which portions of the $110 million construction project were causing the problem but said that “overall budget pressures” forced the TCGE to make some cuts. They settled on the construction management position, which accounts for roughly 2 percent of the total budget, opting to handle those responsibilities internally.
Lumpy Lambert, a TCGE member who will also become general manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel when it opens, is heading up the TGCE team, Rose said.
“Our comfort level was high in terms of our ability to bring it internal,” said Rose, who himself has experience in construction management, operations and the military.
While Rose maintains that the decision was purely budget-driven, SRA president and co-owner Eric Sneed said he suspects political motivations, maintaining that eliminating the construction management position isn’t the way to go when faced with financial troubles.
“Whenever there’s concern with budgets or a budget or project becomes financially strapped or challenged, typically that introduces even more challenge into a project, and that manager role becomes even more important,” Sneed said. “You’ve got to have someone there who is living and breathing the details of that project.”
On a large project like the casino, the construction manager acts as the owner’s representative, handling front-end work like ordering the necessary environmental assessments, making sure land use rules are followed and selecting designers, architects and construction companies. Later on in the project, the manager keeps an eye on the crews to make sure they’re not cutting corners and that they’re following all the applicable codes.
“If we were still there, we would be fulltime engaged on that project,” Sneed said.
According to Rose, though, fulltime engagement isn’t necessary. The TGCE team holds five to 10 meetings per week with people representing different parts of the project, sometimes on the site and sometimes not. On average, Rose said, he’s at the site two times per week.
“It’s really about top-level meetings,” he said, “and of course you visit the field, but much of the work is done in planning sessions.”
When completed, the casino will have a 300-bed hotel and a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor, with the entire complex including 125,000 square feet. That’s about one-third the size of the gaming floor at Harrah’s in Cherokee, but the casino is still expected to pull down plenty of extra cash while providing a quicker commute for casino employees who live in outlying areas of the Qualla Boundary. Ground broke on the project in fall 2013, and dirt-moving began in earnest in January.
The casino is expected to open in the summer of 2015. Rose doesn’t expect that the management change will have any effect on that schedule.
“The project is going well,” he said. “On schedule, on budget.”