By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Next fall, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort will not only be filled with the sounds of gaming machines, a portion will be filled with the sounds of bowling pins being knocked around. Officials and leaders from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, along with officials from Harrah’s Cherokee, broke ground on the Bowling Entertainment Center at the casino resort on Tuesday, July 19.
“It’s been proven many, many times in business that without growth and without change, business would die,” said Shawn Crowe, an EBCI tribal member who served as the emcee for Tuesday’s event. He went on to praise the casino’s place in western North Carolina and Cherokee itself. “I don’t want to take it too lightly, and I think a lot of other enrolled members feel the same, that we appreciate what you, Harrah’s Cherokee, have done for us.”
Tribal Council passed a resolution during Budget Council on Wednesday, Feb. 3 to build the $13 million Bowling Entertainment Center. The resolution, submitted by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, has the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians responsible for half or roughly $6.5 million of the price tag with the TCGE (Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise) being responsible for the other half.
Chief Lambert commented on Tuesday, “We’ve all waited a long time for this day. There’s been a lot of people that have come before that have worked to get this day here.”
He thanked everyone who had a part in the project, “Today is a very important day for our Tribe and our casino enterprise. Today, we break ground on a new facility – a new Bowling Center that will serve our people and our casino customers. This project has been a long time coming, and it will be delivered completely debt-free.”
Chief Lambert noted that since taking office in October 2015, he has made economic diversification one of his administration’s top priorities. “That’s why I’ve directed our team to do everything they can to bring the best food, the best retail, the best entertainment right here into our town. We’ve all created a vision together. It’s a shared vision – a vision of economic diversification that makes good business sense, respects Cherokee culture, creates new job opportunities, and provides family-friendly attractions that will entice our visitors to visit and stay longer.”
During his speech, Chief Lambert challenged Tribal Council to a game of bowling once the Center opens. “Since there are so many members of Tribal Council and just one of me, I’m going to pick my team right here. My team is going to consist of the gold medalists elders sitting right here,” he said lightheartedly referring to a group of EBCI elders who are active in the Senior Games, many having won medals in bowling.
The 50,000 square foot Center will contain two floors. According to information from the TCGE, the first floor will cost $8,723,090 and will contain 16 bowling lanes, a food and beverage outlet, and an arcade area. The second floor will cost $4,578,523 and will contain eight bowling lanes, a bar, and a potential food area.
Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed stated, “There are so many people who have put a great deal of work into this project to its fruition, too many in fact to try to name everyone…this project represents what I think will be the first of many projects to help increase our economic diversity. As Chief Lambert said, economic diversity and economic prosperity are at the forefront of the agenda for this administration.”
He added, “This will increase our diversity and profitability while simultaneously providing jobs and entertainment value for both our community and our visitors.”
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor related, “This has been a project that’s been on the table ever since I’ve been on Tribal Council, and today it’s finally come to life.”
He recognized the senior bowlers who were instrumental in bringing the project forward. “This is your project. You all started this project. We would not be here today breaking ground if you all hadn’t kept pushing for this project so I applaud you.”
Chairman Taylor went on to say, “This Bowling Center is going to provide jobs for our people, increase revenue, and increase our people’s per capita. This amenity will also make sure that our property, our resort, will stand out in the forefront of Indian Country when it comes to Indian gaming casinos and resorts.”
Brooks Robinson, Harrah’s Cherokee regional senior vice president and general manager, said, “Harrah’s Cherokee has achieved unparalleled success since opening in 1997 as evidenced by this constant growth…the addition of this Bowling Entertainment Complex is yet another milestone for us as we continue to solidify ourselves as the premier resort in the southeast and in Indian Country. Strong leadership and visionary thinking has been the catalyst for various Cherokee successes. Staying competitive in the casino industry is critical, and I have been fortunate to be a part of a team of visionaries who have pushed forward for the betterment of this business.”
He stated that this venture represents a joint venture between the Tribe and the TCGE (Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise), the first of its kind. “It’s exciting, very exciting, the first in our history. By working together, the Tribe and Harrah’s Cherokee will launch and new and exciting amenity that fills both a need for our community and also for our casino guests.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke has worked on the project for years. “This is not only going to help the seniors, it’s going to help the youth too. So, you can bring your kids to this one, and that’s a great thing.”
She said the Junaluska Leadership Council first brought the idea of a bowling alley to Tribal Council in 1998. “In 2001, Jim Owle and B. Ensley brought a resolution in, and Tribal Council passed it unanimously, to go ahead with a theater and a bowling alley. Well, we did the theater, but we didn’t have the money to do the bowling alley. But, now we do.”
Yellowhill Rep. B. Ensley commented, “I want to thank the seniors and all the bowlers. They stayed on Jim (Owle) and I for years and years, and we kept pushing forward.”
Annie Owens, an EBCI elder from the Yellowhill Community who is active in the senior games and bowling, commented, “A wonderful day has happened, and I want to extend a great thank you and appreciation to Tribal Council and the Chief (Lambert), a special thank you to Bill Taylor, B. (Ensley) and Tommye (Saunooke) for bringing this thing forward. We have our seniors, we have our families, we have our youth, we have our casino guests, people out in the communities that can come and join in and have fun like we do.”