River Spirit plans Margaritaville expansion
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
3/19/13 at 7:24 AM
Muscogee (Creek) Nation gaming officials are expanding their River Spirit Casino and entering a partnership with Margaritaville to open a 22-story hotel along the Arkansas River.
The 500-room hotel tower will be completed in early 2015 and will accompany a new casino, restaurant, pool-bar area, theater, event center and more - all bearing Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville brand, according to Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos officials.
"We wanted something that would really sizzle," said Pat Crofts, casino chief executive officer. "Simply building onto the casino is just cutting the pie more."
Chief George Tiger said the expansion will benefit Tulsa as well as the Creek Nation.
"We're noted for being at the top of the list when it comes to gaming in the nation," Tiger said. "We're really excited about it. It's a win-win."
The 18- to 24-month construction schedule is to start this fall with local contracts going to Manhattan Construction and Redstone Construction, according to a release.
The $250 million total expansion is projected to add 800 new jobs and 1,800 construction jobs through 2014, according to a Creek Nation press release.
Rerouting River Parks trail
The announcement came weeks after the River Parks Authority an- nounced that the Creek Nation would be moving the portion of the trail that runs along Riverside Drive from in front of the casino to along the Arkansas River behind the casino.
River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer said the rerouting of the trail is an appreciated improvement to the trail system that runs along the Arkansas River from 11th Street to 101st Street.
"It's all good," Meyer said. "We've been talking with the Creeks for several years about rerouting the trail."
The rerouting will enable pedestrians to avoid traffic in the area caused in large part by the casino. Officials including Meyer said the trail's proximity to traffic was a safety concern.
"We just feel it will be safer for everyone," he said.
The new trail will at least meet the same design criteria as the rest of the trail, but designers will have room to improve on it if they want, Meyer said.
City Engineering Services Director Paul Zachary said some points of the agreement to reroute the trail still must be worked out.
In return for the rerouting of the trail, the city may trade a small swath of land it owns north of the casino, which would add to the tribe's land holdings between Riverside Parkway and the Arkansas River.
Additionally, a portion of the planned event center will span a creek on which the city of Tulsa has an easement, according to the plans.
Zachary said the city will have some say in how the building sits over the creek, making sure it doesn't impede water flow.
"That structure cannot be any kind of impediment," he said. "Is it doable? Yes. But it has to be done right."
The annual economic impact of the expansion is projected to be about $135 million, with an annual payroll of about $38 million, according a report prepared by Bob Ball, an economist for the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
"The Creek Nation certainly would not be looking at a $250 million expansion unless they felt the business-friendly attitude of the city of Tulsa was there," said Mayor Dewey Bartlett. "Growth is good."
Bartlett said Tulsa has a unique opportunity in its proximity to several Indian nations whose borders converge near Tulsa.
"It's going to be, obviously, a terrific tourist attraction, and one way we can certainly market our city - in the valuable investments being made in our entertainment area," he said.
Creeks on the river
With the Muscogee (Creek) Nation purchase of Riverwalk Crossing less than a year ago, the Creek Nation and its gaming arm have an entertainment stronghold on the Arkansas River.
Tiger said the River Spirit expansion will create more opportunity to develop the tribe's land there in the future.
"It allows for us to continue and expand the services that we provide to our tribal members," he said.
Although the river is largely dry now, Tiger said he will help in efforts to fill it with water.
"We're going to work with whomever or whatever resources we can bring together to see whatever possibilities there are to bring water to that area of the river," he said.
Bartlett said the Creek Nation had committed a sizable amount to river development as part of Vision2, if that proposal had been passed by voters.
"What we will see in my view is - once the project is completed - it will be a very good example in a thoughtful way of developing our river," Bartlett said.
If the river is ever filled with water, Crofts said the plans for the casino are to build water taxis that would float people back and forth from Riverwalk Crossing to the casino.
"We're hedging our bets a little," Crofts said. "We're kind of creating our own water feature."
Jerry Floyd, general manager of River Spirit Casino, said traffic in the area should not be slowed much by construction.
Crofts said the former casino hall and current event center on the north end of the site will become offices and storage.
An add-on to the existing parking garage will add about 1,500 parking spaces, according to a release.
With that addition, Crofts said, a parking lot on the east side of Riverside Parkway may be freed up for future projects - although Crofts said nothing is planned yet.
The event center portion will hold up to 1,000 people, and a Margaritaville-branded showroom theater for concerts will hold about 2,500 people, the news release says.
The total gaming floorspace will increase by about 30,000 square feet and will include 750 electronic gaming devices and 20 table games.
During construction, environmental studies will be conducted to preserve several protected species in the area, Floyd said.
For the Parrotheads
In a press release, Jimmy Buffett said he first visited Tulsa when he played at Cain's Ballroom and hopes to come back.
"I'm happy to bring a few palm trees and frozen concoctions to the banks of the Arkansas River," Buffett said. "It is an honor to be returning as part of this great new entertainment complex in association with River Spirit and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I look forward to getting back to Tulsa and playing there again real soon."
While no concert date has been scheduled, casino officials are working to get Buffett to Tulsa before the expansion is completed.
River Spirit Casino additions
Hotel: 500 rooms, 22 stories with VIP suites, swimming pool, spa and Margaritaville pool deck with beach bar
Margaritaville Casino: 30,000 square feet with 750 electronic games and 20 tables
Entertainment venue: Margaritaville showroom with seating for up to 2,500 people
Convention center: 35,000 square feet with seating for up to 1,000 people
Parking: an addition to the existing parking garage will hold about 1,500 more cars
Original Print Headline: Spirit of change
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
An artist's rendering of the Margaritaville expansion of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's River Spirit Casino shows pools and palm trees as well as a 22-story hotel tower alongside the Arkansas River. Courtesy
An artist's rendering shows the proposed River Spirit Casino and hotel expansion.