Sour economy delays tribe's hotel project, but execs still optimistic about 7-story complex
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Elton Goodwin, left, and Patrick Walker of Walker Enterprises prepare to deck 7 Cedars Casino with energy-saving LED lights on Friday. The men will trim the rest of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe's buildings along U.S. Highway 101 in Blyn with 700,000 of the tiny bulbs. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News

By Diane Urbani de la Paz

BLYN -- Jerry Allen, CEO of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe, is candid about what the national financial meltdown is doing to the tribe's longstanding plans for a seven-story hotel and conference center.

"It's difficult to go out and find financing in this market," Allen said on Thursday.

"We've put off until mid SSRq09 our looking for $100 million or $120 million," to build the landmark resort complex.

The crises rocking the country's financial institutions has merely modified the tribe's time line, however.

Allen, who already has orchestrated the purchase of the Cedars at Dungeness Golf Course for $3 million in 2007 and the completion of the $12 million Longhouse Market & Deli in spring 2008, said he's optimistic about finding a lender to back the next phase of development.

For three years now, Allen and his older brother, Ron, chairman of the Jamestown tribe for three decades, have been attending hoteliers' conferences around the country.

While gaming has been very good to their tribe, the Allens know that to continue flourishing, they must diversify.

Their vision includes a $25 million conference center connected to the casino; a $35 million resort hotel rising behind that, and towering above it all, a 100-foot totem pole.

The top floor of the hotel could have a white-tablecloth dinner house, while another level would feature a cozy cafe.

All of the above is still part of the plan, Jerry Allen said.

He fully expects to have financing in place next summer; a 24-month construction schedule would put the resort's grand opening in mid-2011.

Meantime, the country's economic downturn hasn't attenuated the flow of people into 7 Cedars.

Gaming business up

This past October, the casino had its fourth-best month since it opened 13 years ago, Allen added.

Last month's traffic was up 15 percent from October 2007.

"I like to tell my brother Ron that it's good management. But we're just lucky," Allen said, "that people are staying local," instead of driving to Seattle or beyond for their entertainment.

Native American tribes aren't required to report casino revenues. But there's no question that gaming halls like 7 Cedars are considered the golden ticket to prosperity.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe hopes to open by Christmas a $4 million casino west of Port Angeles, and the Snoqualmie tribe has just opened a 170,000-square-foot casino off Interstate 90 just east of Seattle.

The Snoqualmies opened their hall, with its 1,700 electronic slot machines, Thursday night, after borrowing $375 million to build it.

Allen wonders how the casino -- more than three times the size of 7 Cedars -- will fare without a hotel attached.

"I'm a little fearful for the Snoqualmie," he said. "They have a $375 million debt and not a single room. I wouldn't want to be driving that ship."

For contrast, Allen points to the 370-room Tulalip Resort Casino, off Interstate 5 about half an hour north of Seattle. He said the giant hotel-gaming-dining-amphitheater complex has been doing quite well since the Tulalip tribe opened it last summer.

"That stay-and-play is a nice amenity," he added. In other words, the destination resort is the way to go for the Jamestown tribe, come economic rain or shine.

And in the meantime, the tribe is decking its halls with relatively expensive LED holiday lights -- some 700,000 of them, said Patrick Walker of Walker Enterprises.

Allen hired the Port Orchard company to string the energy-efficient lights around the casino and the rest of the tribal complex in Blyn, though each 25-bulb strand of LEDs costs $7 instead of $2 for the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Though the lights cost more up front, Walker said, "the power savings will make up the difference in a season and a half."

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 09. 2008 4:50AM
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