Casino's revenue validates expansion
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
3/29/13 at 2:37 PM
CATOOSA - Although the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is already massive, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker says the facility recently got solid validation for adding the $52 million tower with 100 hotel rooms.
The Hard Rock just had its two highest-grossing months in a row, even though the tower's construction has temporarily eliminated a large portion of gaming space.
"Can you imagine what it's going to be when we get our gaming floor back in full operating order?" Baker said. "It's a sign that this project is coming together at the right time."
The gaming floor for the area will be back in business by August, complemented by a two-story, sports-themed media bar with large, curved video walls, a variety of new casual dining options and additional convention space.
When the new hotel rooms open by the end of the year, the Hard Rock's 456 rooms will nearly equal the 460 rooms at the Hyatt Regency Tulsa, currently the largest area hotel in terms of room count.
Jon Davidson Sr., director of hospitality operations at the Hard Rock, said the 19-story tower finished in 2009 has an annualized occupancy of 90 percent.
The new tower should add more than 50 employees to the entertainment complex, bringing its total head count to more than 1,500.
During a topping-out ceremony at the construction site Monday, Baker said he's proud of the revenue and employment the Hard Rock has brought to the Cherokee Nation and the area as a whole.
"Gaming is a means," he said. "It gives us the opportunity to create other kinds of jobs and to bring new business to northeast Oklahoma."
Baker said the Cherokee Nation, with 13,500 jobs, is now the fourth-biggest single employer in the area.
Robin Flint Ballenger, chairman of Flintco Cos. Inc., said construction dollars and duties have been spread to as many Cherokee-led and certified companies as possible.
"I'm happy to tell you that so far, 72 percent of the dollars invested in the construction of this building have been paid to Cherokee-certified vendors," she said.
Davidson said that while much of construction has gone smoothly thanks to the mild winter, it's been a challenge managing a construction operation sandwiched between two operating parts of the casino.
Part of the solution is scheduling major jobs away from peak business hours and events at The Joint, a 45,000-square-foot entertainment center and amphitheater.
"Our workers poured all of the concrete at night," Davidson said.
"They didn't start until 10 p.m. or 3 a.m. to help accommodate customer demand."
Hard Rock's buffet area being transformed
The tower under construction is getting most of the attention, but the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa is about to unveil a new feature to the existing part of the resort.
The former Wild Potato Buffet has gotten a $2 million face-lift and has been transformed into Buffet, which should officially open to the public Wednesday.
Jon Davidson Sr., director of hospitality operations at Hard Rock, said the renovation was a separate project from the new tower but one that's been in the works for a while.
"The buffet area was the last component of our resort property that hasn't been remodeled, so it's a project that was overdue," he said.
New features include a series of guitars decorated by artists and a variety of "action stations" that will put kitchen staff within the buffet itself, preparing fresh food.
Another new component is a root beer float station, with one of the three flavors of root beer created just for the casino, Davidson said.
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447