COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION — It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since ilani first opened its doors, but the casino celebrated its fifth anniversary with a special “topping off” ceremony Monday morning.
The topping off was placing the final beam, signed by the dozens of guests, staff, contractors and others attending Monday’s event atop the 14-story, glass-enclosed hotel currently under construction.
“This is a very momentous day for us,” said Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, vice chair for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
Kinswa-Gaiser thanked ilani General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose and her team for making the casino and resort a success.
“Without the team that we have … we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Kinswa-Gaiser said. “My hands are up to them for their diligence and hard work.”
Tanna Engdahl, spiritual leader for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, led the event with a prayer and blessing. Engdahl noted the new hotel will give visitors the best vantage point of the Cowlitz’s historic tribal lands.
“We have a long history on this land. This is one of the greatest events for us, because now our land goes toward the sky,” Engdahl said. “Our high, long house is going to be there to meet the eagles.”
In the five years since opening, the casino has added a meeting and events center that seats 2,500, a six-story parking garage, a gas station and convenience store boasting some of the lowest gas prices in Southwest Washington, two new restaurants, a video wall and more gaming stations.
Construction on the 14-story luxury hotel, slated to open in spring 2023, began in 2021. When complete, the hotel will have nearly 300 guest rooms, with 28 luxury suites. It will also feature an indoor/outdoor pool with a bar and private cabanas. The hotel is being built by the Howard S. Wright company, which is best known for its construction of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt building in Portland and the University of Oregon student recreation center.
Ray Pinnault, CEO of Mohegan Gaming, which partnered with the Cowlitz Tribe to build the resort, said the casino’s four principles, called the Spirit of Aquai, align well with the collegial spirit celebrated by the Cowlitz Tribe.
Pinnault said those principles are to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere; develop passionate and dedicated employees based on mutual respect; provide outstanding service that goes above and beyond, and to build productive long-term relationships.
“As I stand here with you today, it brings me great joy to see the Spirit of Aquai alive and well from coast to coast,” Pinnault said. “The future is bright for ilani.”
Fox-LaRose said she’s appreciated watching the casino and surrounding community evolve over the last years. Fox-LaRose said she was especially proud to see construction on the hotel progressing.
“Our goal is to obtain a coveted four-diamond designation, which would be a first of its kind in Clark County,” she said. “It’s a huge accomplishment.”
The four-diamond designation is awarded by the American Automobile Association, with around 1,700 hotels nationwide receiving the award.
Among those gathered to celebrate the casino’s anniversary was state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver. Stonier said since the Legislature partnered with the Cowlitz Tribe to help build the casino, she wanted to be on hand to celebrate their success.
“This ceremony commemorates more than just a construction milestone. It’s the first time we’ve shared the interior renderings and celebrated another step in honoring the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s vision to lift up our community with economic opportunities for the region,” Fox-LaRose said.