Hard Rock Hotel & Casino celebrates opening of new tower
BY ROBERT EVATT World Staff Writer
Saturday, September 29, 2012
10/16/12 at 7:33 AM
CATOOSA - As he left the Go-Go's concert Thursday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, Shawn Slaton, interim CEO of Cherokee Nation Entertainment, reflected on the just-finished addition to the casino floor.
"I looked into the new area, and I thought, man, that's really beautiful," Slaton said Friday. "What a difference 18 months makes."
The new, non-smoking casino floor, part of the Hard Rock's 10-story tower that's still partially under construction, adds 500 gaming machines, 15 table games, a poker room, a food court and a media bar dubbed Replay.
Cherokee Nation officials took part in a grand opening Friday.
Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker noted that the "magnificent" new addition adds 50 jobs at the casino and will bring in even more money for tribe members.
"Five percent of every dollar goes to Cherokee health care," he said. "Another 30 percent goes to services for the Cherokee people."
Although Cherokee officials expressed their gratitude and excitement during the grand opening, Slaton noted that, without the actions of four people, it would have been a very different kind of ceremony.
The morning after the February 2011 blizzard that dumped 14 inches of snow, Tyler Sanders, an employee of the casino, noticed flakes of wallboard on the floor in a bathroom, Slaton said. Rather than sweep it away, he looked up and saw growing cracks in the ceiling.
Sanders notified Eddie Scully, who then notified Willie Whitekiller, who called Gary Weddell, vice president of gaming operations. Slaton said that even though Weddell faced pressure to keep bringing in money, he made the call to evacuate the area.
"He said, 'I don't know if we have a problem or not, but it doesn't look right. I'm going to get everyone out of here,' " Slaton said.
Barely 15 minutes later, the ceiling in the northwest part of the casino came down. Thanks to the actions of Sanders, Scully, Whitekiller and Weddell, no one was injured.
Baker said the casino was able to continue operating without layoffs, although a sizable area of the Hard Rock was wiped out.
"A year ago, it was just bare dirt," he said. "There was nothing."
Cherokee Nation officials made the decision to move up their timetable for expansion and replace the damaged area with a 10-story tower, which would add 98 hotel rooms to the facility and bring the total number to 454 rooms.
Robin Flint Ballenger, chairman of Flintco Cos. Inc., said even though ground was broken just nine months ago and quality construction was a priority, personnel working around the clock were able to get the new casino floor ready for last week's soft opening.
"That's an astonishingly, astoundingly fast schedule," she said.
An average of 31.7 percent of the workers on the project are Native American, and 20 of the companies that have worked on it are certified with the Cherokee Nation's Tribal Employment Rights Office.
Construction of the tower's upper floors will continue through November.
During Friday's ceremony, the Hard Rock was named Tribal Destination of the Year by the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association.
The floor of the new area provides additional spaces for Hard Rock memorabilia, including pictures taken and items worn during performances at The Joint.
Replay features 57 televisions ranging in size from 32 to 103 inches, most of which will be showing sports events. The bar also features more than 50 different types of beer.
Restaurants in the food court include Slice, which is devoted to pizza; Salsa, which serves Mexican fare; and Flipside, an American grill.
Original Print Headline: New tower opens
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447
Gaming portion of the new Hard Rock tower, taken in Catoosa. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
The new Hard Rock tower adds 500 gaming machines, 15 table games and a poker room. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World
A roof collapse after last year's blizzard spurred Hard Rock Hotel & Casino to move up its expansion timetable with a new tower (right) that is still partially under construction. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World