The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria ceremoniously broke ground Wednesday on a $175 million, 200-room hotel and convention center south of its existing $800 million casino and entertainment facility.
The 342,000-square-foot addition will seamlessly connect to the casino located west of Rohnert Park city limits off U.S. Highway 101. It is scheduled to open in fall 2016.
"This is the icing on the cake," the tribe's chairman Greg Sarris said.
During the construction, the resort will employ more than 1,000 people -- 400 to start -- and when finished will be staffed by 150 employees, said Lori Nelson, spokeswoman for Station Casinos LLC, the tribe's Las Vegas-based management partner. It will contain typical hotel rooms of 500 square feet and up to 2,600 square feet for high rollers, Sarris said. Also included is a lobby and bar, a spa and 20,000 square feet of flexible event and convention space.
"Northern California needs a convention center," Sarris told dozens of people, including Sonoma County and Rohnert Park officials, sheltered from the sun and hot pavement in a tent on the site of the new hotel.
The centerpiece of the resort will be a pool area that serves as an extension of the hotel lobby and provide an outdoor connection to the convention and meeting space.
Five tribe members performed the ceremonial ground breaking with shiny silver shovels on a large pile of dirt inside the tent, and two pieces of construction equipment then scooped up dirt from a pile outside. The hotel, convention center, spa and pool area comprise the resort component of the Graton Resort & Casino and its construction was planned from the beginning.
Joe Hasson, the casino and 8,700-square-foot entertainment center's general manager, said the existing casino which opened in November 2013 "was the revenue engine that needed to be in place" before the resort is built.
Hasson said details about the casino's revenue, employment numbers and finances is propriety information of the tribe.
"But there's never been a day when we stopped hiring. There's always something available for someone who wants a career in the hospitality industry," Hasson said.
The 1,300-member Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria tribe owns the land in unincorporated Sonoma County and the casino. Station Casinos LLC developed and manages the Graton Resort & Casino as well as 19 resorts and casinos throughout Nevada.
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, one of many government officials at the groundbreaking, said he is not personally a fan of casinos, but the Graton Rancheria "was great to work with and responded to the needs of the community."
"It's a good thing. It will be a bonus to the region," Rabbitt said.
The hotel will attract visitors who may not prefer gaming and will visit other places in the area's wine country.
"It adds a good clientele and the county has been seeking a convention center," Rabbitt said.
There was intense opposition to the proposed casino during hours-long public hearings in Rohnert Park and the county Board of Supervisors. The tribe agreed to provide a share of its revenue to both Rohnert Park and the county to mitigate off-site impacts on traffic and infrastructure improvements around the casino and resort, located near a Wal-Mart, Home Depot and several restaurants.
An effort failed in August 2014 to recall two Rohnert Park city councilmembers who voted for the tribe's $200 million revenue sharing agreement with the city.
Thousands of people who headed for the casino's 3,000 slot machines, 130 gaming tables and a dozen bars and restaurants for its grand opening on Nov. 5, 2013, caused traffic gridlock along U.S. Highway 101 and surface streets near Rohnert Park. The logjam dissipated soon thereafter as the novelty of the casino waned.
"The revenue sharing was important. It's all about off-site mitigation. Whatever is on site is under the tribe's control," Rabbitt said.
"These are Indian lands," Rohnert Park City Councilman Jake Mackenzie said. "The tribe honored its agreement and has been a good neighbor. That's what they promised and that's what they delivered," Mackenzie said.
The Federated Coast Miwok tribe was established in 1992 and assumed its current name when it was restored to tribal status in 2000 as Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people.