COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION — Amid a dusting of snow, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the team from ilani broke ground Tuesday on a 10,000-square-foot expansion to its Meeting & Entertainment Center.
The expansion, expected to be completed in 2024, will include flexible meeting space that will be added to the already 30,000 square feet of event space.
“This Meeting & Entertainment Center is certainly critical not only to the sustainability of the investments here on the reservation but also for those that this facility serves,” said Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager at ilani.
“We’re here to make memories, and we’re here because we care and we’re serving a broader purpose,” she added.
The event space is already one of the largest in the region.
The expansion is a natural next step for the tribe, said Tanna Engdahl, its spiritual leader.
“As potlatch people, we want the very best for our guests,” she said. “We want them to come and be entertained, be comfortable, happy. That is our gift.”
As with the rest of ilani, this flexible meeting space will incorporate designs reflecting the heritage and values of the tribe.
The groundbreaking was held on the 23rd anniversary of the tribe’s federal recognition. While the reservation was established in 2010, it received its federal recognition Feb. 14, 2000.
“It wasn’t many years ago that this was a field with a farmhouse on it,” said Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, chair of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
“We broke ground for this casino in the pouring down rain and the mud,” added Kinswa-Gaiser, who became the tribe’s leader after the death of its former chair David Barnett in May 2022. “It was so exciting to have this happen. We know we have more to do, but we’ve come a long way.”
The casino has additional plans to build an indoor smoking area with nearly 50 gaming machines.
The expansion is meant to complement the casino and resort’s soon-to-open luxury hotel, which has started taking reservations for May of this year and beyond.