By Douglas Buell
ARLINGTON – The Stillaguamish Tribe broke ground Tuesday on a $64 million expansion for its Angel of the Winds Resort Casino – the largest addition in its history and two years in the making.
Just how big became apparent when a crew unfurled a three-story banner over the side of the casino’s north face, depicting a sleek visual of the 300,000-square-foot expansion with the slogan, “A Change is in the Winds.”
Dozens among the couple hundred Stillaguamish tribal leaders and community members, casino executives and workers, civic and business partners and others put aside umbrellas and grabbed shovels to turn dirt for “The World’s Friendliest Casino” in its latest high-stakes venture.
“We may not be the biggest, but we’re striving to be the best, and this is something that will help us compete,” General Manager Travis O’Neil said.
The expansion includes:
• 275-300 slot machines, 12 table games and expansion of the casino’s “high-limit” space
• 200-seat buffet and private dining options
• 28,000 square feet of entertainment that features 9,000 square feet of multi-purpose space with seating for 700 that can house concerts, performances, conferences, meetings and private events.
• A 575-space parking garage.
• A trendy 12-lane bowling alley that will be integrated into the entertainment area, not stand alone
• A center bar on the casino floor and renovation of existing space. and 60-seat steakhouse called Whiskey Prime, which will also feature seafood.
O’Neil said that during planning, “we tried to take into consideration, through focus groups and surveys, what else we can do to make guests’ experience at Angel of the Winds that much better. We wanted to listen to people that support us today.”
O’Neil said the project will bring 400 construction jobs, and add 150 new casino resort jobs over the next 18 months, creating an employee base of 750.
Tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity said, “It has been a long road” for gaming as a way to help the tribe and was not well-received by members or the community at first. “It took a lot of work through the years to bridge that gap. We assured everybody that through time, as we progressed, we would become more economically stronger.”
The tribe supports many emergency services, social services and community programs through funds generated by the casino.The tribe recently gave an $85,000 grant to the Silvana Fire Department for two sets of Jaws of Life used to rescue people trapped in cars at a crash scene.
“We’re really proud that the success we have is flowing into the community and lifting everybody up as well,” Yanity said.
Tribal members spoke about the dramatic changes that have happened.
Tribal “elder” Carie van Eyk moved to the reservation in 1985 as a 20-year-old woman with a child to join other family members. She was one of 15 employees working at the tribal office.
“We used to call this property here the promised land,” she said, adding that was told as a half-joke because at the time, “There was sometime sadness, lot of alcoholism and not so happy times. “But things have turned around, and today our community is a lot healthier,” she said.
While the casino project required the difficult task of razing 30 homes, the tribes relocated the displaced families and has future plans to build it’s own housing for members. Yanity said it’s important to create a place to gather again, for the elders and their needs, and to tie the community together.
Tribal member Mike Boyd smiled while glancing at graphic representations of the expansion on poster boards at a reception in the casino’s event room. “It’s an awesome opportunity – for everybody.”
Trisha Pecor, tribal board member and secretary, said this is a significant time in the tribe’s history. “It’s an exciting moment for our people, exciting for the generation that came before and the generation of kids that will come after us.”
Iris Meyer, the second-oldest tribal member, called the expansion “a very good idea. I’m pleased to see how far they have come.” Meyer was one of the original Stillaguamish members present when the tribe gained federal recognition in 1976. The expansion is anticipated for completion in summer 2019.