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Sept. 19, 2020

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Parking garage takes shape at ilani

Project scheduled to wrap up in fall; attention then turns to possible hotel

By , Columbian business reporter
6 Photos
A construction worker moves along the top of the ilani parking garage Monday. The structure is expected to be completed in late summer or fall.
A construction worker moves along the top of the ilani parking garage Monday. The structure is expected to be completed in late summer or fall. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Construction is progressing rapidly on a new state-of-the-art parking garage at ilani, with the lower levels of the structure now taking clear shape as the overall project reaches the approximate halfway point in its development timeline.

The casino boasted a 3,200-space surface parking lot when it opened its doors in 2017, but that capacity still fell short of what would be needed to support the Cowlitz Tribe’s long-term vision for the site. A parking garage was always near the top of the priority list.

The garage is targeted for completion in the late summer or fall, and once it’s done, attention is expected to shift to the casino’s next big project: the ilani Hotel.

Hotel plans

The Cowlitz tribe and ilani officials have long hinted that a hotel could be in the cards for the casino, although they’ve never offered a direct confirmation. So far, the closest thing to an official announcement came in the most recent edition of the Cowlitz Tribal Newsletter, which publishes in the spring and fall each year.

Writing about the parking garage in the “Chairman’s Corner” section, Cowlitz Tribe Chairman Bill Iyall briefly mentioned the hotel and listed several new details about the plans for the project.

“After completing the parking garage in the fall of 2020, we plan to move to the groundbreaking for the ilani Hotel — a 4-star hotel with 300 rooms, conference facilities, and with additional restaurants,” he wrote.

Iyall’s column doesn’t specify a timeframe for when the hotel project might start, but the phrasing does suggest that it would be the next project on the list after the completion of the garage. ilani officials declined to discuss the plans further.

“At this time, ilani and The Cowlitz Tribe have no updates to share regarding the potential for a new hotel,” a spokesperson wrote to the Columbian on Jan. 30. “ilani currently is focused on the completion of the parking center, which will provide visitors with additional access to the property. The tribe and ilani are working together to guide their future expansions to ensure they are continuing to meet the needs of the community now and well into the future.”

ilani garage

When completed, the six-story garage will include approximately 2,600 spaces and allow for a future expansion to bring that number up to as many as 4,000. The rooftop will be built to serve as an outdoor events space during the summer months.

The garage will include “speed ramps” to give drivers fast access to the upper levels, as well as a monitoring system to tell drivers how many spaces are left on each level. The structure is located immediately northwest of the main ilani building and will include a covered walkway to the entrance.

ilani has seen a string of projects at the site in the nearly three years since the casino made its debut. Officials broke ground on a convenience store and gas station in September 2018, and the project wrapped up in April 2019, timed to coincide with ilani’s two-year anniversary.

As soon as the gas station opened, crews began working on a new 750-space expansion of the casino’s surface parking lot, intended to replace the spaces on the north side that would need to be removed to free up the garage site. The garage broke ground once that project wrapped up.

The garage will raise ilani’s total parking capacity enough to allow it to host major shows and events at its Cowlitz Ballroom venue during peak casino hours on Fridays and Saturdays — something the casino has previously avoided in order to prevent congestion.

ilani president Kara Fox-LaRose told the Columbian last year that the longer-term goal is for the garage to serve future tribal amenities at ilani, although like the hotel, none of those other projects have been officially announced.