COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION — Ilani Casino Resort opened its new event center Thursday, bringing more demand and attention to northern Clark County.
The 30,000-square-foot center allows Ilani to host concerts, trade shows, corporate meetings and other high-traffic events. It will offer the biggest ballroom in the county, and it is already the largest gaming complex near the Vancouver-Portland metropolitan area.
The space’s biggest footprint belongs to a 22,000-square-foot banquet hall that can seat 800 people at tables or serve a standing audience of 2,500. It can be partitioned for other uses, and there are separate conference rooms as well.
The venue’s first headliners have already been announced, but the official ribbon-cutting was Thursday morning. It started in the rain outside before crowds of local officials, casino staff and members of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe swarmed indoors and around Ilani’s sprawling gaming floor.
Tribal officials said that after nearly two decades of planning and legal battles to build the casino — along Interstate 5 west of La Center at Exit 16 — they now have plenty of momentum. The new venue opens less than a year after the casino, noted Cowlitz Tribe Chairman Bill Iyall.
Update• Previously: Ilani Casino Resort, a 368,000-square-foot casino and restaurant venue, opened April 24. • What's new: Casino officials on Thursday cut the ribbon on a new 30,000-square-foot event center, complete with a banquet hall and conference rooms. • What's next: A hotel feasibility study is getting underway this year, though there is no date set for construction.
“We’re not going to slow down,” he said.
The event center has long been in the plans, and its construction costs were built into the casino’s initial $510 million price tag. Iyall said construction of the event center itself cost around $20 million. It is contained within the shell of the huge building that also houses the casino, restaurants and shopping.
Business is already coming in, casino officials said. After a campaign of television commercials and announcing its first slate of entertainers, the space has bookings throughout the next three months, said Vice President of Marketing Tom Teesdale.
Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager of the casino, said management is expecting a lot of attention for the event’s space right away.
“We’re certainly looking forward to an aggressive month for April,” she told The Columbian.
‘Room for everyone’
The venue’s buzz has local officials optimistic about growth away from the reservation, as well.
Nelson Holmberg, vice president of innovation at the Port of Ridgefield, said the casino’s presence already helped land a long-awaited grocery store in Ridgefield. The port announced its deal with Rosauers Supermarket in February.
Likewise, hosting trade shows and concerts could be a new attraction to help land new businesses, said Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.
“When you put all these things together, it becomes a really nice package for livability and entertainment,” he said.
Ilani’s next project will be a hotel. A feasibility study is just getting underway, Fox-LaRose said, and should be completed this year. There’s no timetable for the hotel’s construction.
“We believe we certainly can benefit from a hotel,” she said. “We understand to maximize that space requires hotel rooms for groups that are coming in and traveling further in, that prefer to stay.”
The flip side of growth, though, is competition. There are already 11 hotels planned in Clark County, according to the tourism agency Visit Vancouver USA. The meeting space could also compete with the likes of the Hilton Vancouver Washington.
The Hilton has nine meeting rooms; its largest room is 14,074 square feet, considerably smaller than Ilani’s.
Fox-LaRose said they are trying to be good partners with other businesses. For example, she said, they plan to work with other hotels and will try to book concerts on dates that don’t conflict with shows at the Sunlight Supply Amphitheater.
“We think there’s room for everyone,” she said. “The more reason people have to come to the region, I think, is a good thing. And I think one of the reasons we’re seeing a migration and population increasing at such a fast pace is all the opportunities the region has to offer.”