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Sights, Sounds of Beale Street Inspire Renovation

Creek Casino Montgomery is undergoing a $65 million renovation that will feature more than 2,200 gaming machines, a luxury hotel and full-service salon.

Wed November 11, 2015 - National Edition
Cindy Riley

Inspired by the colors, sights and sounds of Memphis’ famed Beale Street, Creek Casino Montgomery is undergoing a $65 million renovation that will feature more than 2,200 gaming machines, a luxury hotel and full-service salon once construction is completed in late 2015. A fine dining restaurant and a blues club offering live nightly music also will be included at the expanded facility, to be renamed Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Montgomery.

At the helm of the massive upgrade is the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA). CIEDA executes and oversees building, construction and development projects commissioned by the Poarch Creek Tribe.

“We have the distinct pleasure, under the direction of Tribal Council, to design and manage construction projects for the Tribe,” said James T. Martin, president and CEO of CIEDA. “While utilizing Native American contractors wherever possible, we have to date successfully executed over a half billion dollars in commercial construction, and have plans for even more in the future.”

The Poarch Creeks, operating as PCI Gaming Authority, already operate a 46,000-sq. ft. (4,273 sq m) gambling floor casino at the site. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians also own the Wind Creek Casino & Hotels in Wetumpka and Atmore, Ala.

The Montgomery renovation was structured in phases, with Phase I including the game floor, the new blues club and the back-of-house operations. The four-story hotel is considered Phase II construction. Work on the long-awaited expansion, which has been in the planning stages for a while, is likely to be finished by the end of this year.

According to Jim Angus, construction project controls manager, CIEDA, project management group, “One of the biggest challenges has been coordinating the construction around an operating facility. Because this addition replaces a portion of the existing facility and is an extension of the remaining building, it has been crucial that the operations group work closely with the construction group in order to minimize the disruption to existing building services, and to the customer’s level of satisfaction. Portions of the remaining buildings also required some renovation so that the completed facility will have a seamless appearance.

“Demolition of a portion of the building started in November of 2014, and the entire structure has now been completed. The building has been dried-in, and all of the major HVAC equipment has been set. All of the HVAC duct work has been installed, and the main electrical service has been connected and is operational.”

The tear down involved approximately 60,000 sq. ft. (5,574 sq m) of casino floor, administration, kitchen and back of house/service areas. The demolition took approximately four weeks, as the foundation was larger than expected. Crews managed to carry out the task, which included rerouting chilled water lines and managing electrical feeds, without disrupting a fully operational casino.

The basic structure is a light steel frame perched on a two-foot thick post tension foundation. The land itself brings challenges not generally associated with most construction projects.

“The whole area is archeologically sensitive, as far as buried artifacts, etc.,” Angus said. “We didn’t want to dig down into the dirt. We wanted to stay above grade. We actually raised the building up on top of fill to preserve the historical significance of the site.

“The top three floors of the hotel are done with a light metal pre-fab metal stud partition that was delivered in sections and set up. We were able to keep weight down and not have to go into the ground with foundations.

“The idea was that once you enter through the porte-cochere and come inside the building, it’s as if you are entering the corner of Beale Street and Second Avenue,” Angus said. “We found someone who does a lot of demo of old brick structures, and we were able to get a whole lot of old brick that had come down. They slice it in half, so it’s really a facade. I’m very pleased with how things are coming along. I think this project is going to be in its own style, probably one of the best facilities we have.

Angus said the thought process was two-fold. The firm wanted to expand the gaming operation and make it seamless.

“Over the years, like any other facility, you build one segment and then keep adding to it. We took down what was there prior to 2010. All of that is gone. We’ve opened things up so that it now looks like one big casino floor, giving people a more open, exciting atmosphere.”

Patrons also will have a variety of food options when work is completed.

“The first of those is Lucille’s Eatery, named after King’s beloved guitar. That fast-casual spot opened in January. Now, with the introduction of B.B. King’s Blues Club and Restaurant, we have a major entertainment and food venue, plus 123 rooms in a hotel that we didn’t have before. This fills out the balance of what we had in this facility.”

Jake Carlton, the casino’s property manager, said, “This just gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to someone who was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, blues legend ever. If you’ve never seen Beale Street in Memphis, there are some unique entertainers. You’ll have that aspect of Beale Street recreated right here. It’s something unique to the city of Montgomery. It’s not the same as what our other properties have become.”

In addition, Itta Bena will be a 195-seat upscale dining establishment. The grand opening of the new restaurants and the expanded gaming floor will take place in November or December. Invited guests will get a preview of the hotel during a pre-opening that coincides with the public event.

Currently, work under way includes main entry drive and VIP parking, game floor theming elements, carpet replacement in the existing building, painting, drywall finish-out in the hotel floors, mechanical and electrical distribution, low voltage distribution (data & surveillance) and kitchen equipment installation.

Work to be completed includes start-up of A/C systems, vinyl wall coverings, ceiling tile installation, finish flooring materials, mill work, doors and hardware, signage and installation of FF&E. Workers also are using a special air distribution system to pump conditioned air into a cavity below the floor before it is forced back up and released. Officials say the process will help with overall air quality.

During construction, about 200 workers have been on site at the facility. According to management, the process has gone smoothly, with minimum disruption to the casino and no major construction issues. Tracking imported materials and meeting accelerated delivery dates have been crucial in making the deadline for completion.

Some of the equipment being used on the renovation and expansion has included track hoes, dozers, off-road trucks, lulls, backhoes, skid steers and a crane to set the structural steel.

Although weather conditions have not always been favorable, crews have not allowed the elements to interfere with construction. Rain and moisture have been concerns, but have not forced any major delays.

The Montgomery casino has added 60 new employees, so far, as part of the expansion. Officials expect to hire more than 170 others before the grand opening, including a complete hotel staff, new operations management and valet parking attendants.

The project, located on Eddie L. Tullis Road in northeast Montgomery, is a joint venture between Rolin Construction Inc., and Rabren General Contractors Inc., doing business as Alabama Native Contractors. For Shawn Rolin, president of Rolin Construction, the renovation has been a rewarding experience.

“Alabama Native Contractors, PCI Gaming and Creek Indian Enterprises created a dynamic team who exemplified the meaning of partnership. This was an example of tribal and non-tribal contractors and owners- teaming together and driving the project to success.”

Rolin said, “As a tribal member, being able to participate in and deliver another project to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on time and within budget brings a great sense of pride.”

Managing various economic enterprises, the Poarch Creek Indians are the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama operating as a sovereign nation with its own system of government and bylaws. The Poarch Creek Indians are descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation, which once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia.

Unlike many eastern Indian tribes, the Poarch Creeks were not removed from their tribal lands and have lived together for almost 200 years in and around the reservation in Poarch, Alabama. The reservation is located eight miles northwest of Atmore, Alabama in rural Escambia County, and roughly 60 miles east of Mobile.

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