By Amy Watkins Special to the Herald Business Journal
TULALIP — Mel Sheldon wanted his State of the Tulalip Tribes speech to be educational, informative and leave those who listened to it with a better understanding of the Tulalip Tribes.
The chairman of the Tulalip Tribes addressed a crowd of about 100 people Friday during the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Business Before Hours event at the Tulalip Resort Casino.
The Tulalips’ ancestors built a community and economy based on salmon, deer, gathering and trade, Sheldon said.
“Back then it was one of the strongest economic regions of the pre-Columbian Coast Salish world,” he said. “I mention this because after decades of struggle we are now again in possession of a strong, thriving economy.”
Today that economy is built on gaming, retail and entertainment, Sheldon said. That formula helped the Tulalip Tribes meet its 2012 budget projections, but he is choosing to remain cautiously optimistic about the coming year.
“We’re looking at the signs that are telling us to keep smiling and moving forward but you never take anything for granted,” he said.
Some of those signs Sheldon spoke of point to the success of the Tulalip Resort Casino. A list of the top 10 revenue producing days at the casino includes seven days in 2012 and three so far this year, Sheldon said. The Tulalip Resort Casino employs 3,500 people directly and 5,000 people indirectly. Hotel occupancy reaches 100 percent on weekends and averages about 88 percent on weekdays. Those are numbers Sheldon said he’s proud of and that reflect hard work.
“As I’ve always said, you can build the Taj Mahal and people will come and see you once but that doesn’t mean they’re going to come see you again,” he said. “We believe the service, the dedication of our team keeps on bringing back business.”
The Tulalip Resort Casino last year was named by the Washington Lodging Association as the Outstanding Hotel of the Year and again received a four-diamond rating from AAA Washington. It also received the 2012 Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor, was named Best Casino in the KING-5 Best of Western Washington contest, and the Best Hotel with Meeting Space by Smart Meetings Magazine.
Plans for the Tulalip Resort and Casino include two new restaurants, Sheldon said. Journey East, featuring Asian cuisine, and a sports bar called The Draft, are both scheduled to open later this year.
A $15 million to $20 million remodeling project is also planned for the Quil Ceda Creek Casino. Early conversations about the project have been around an expanded gaming floor, a cabaret with music and entertainment and more food selection for customers, Sheldon said.
One common question Sheldon said he receives is if the Tulalip Tribes plan to expand the Tulalip Resort hotel with a new wing or build a new hotel.
“We’ve had some conversation but it hasn’t really gelled yet,” he said.
Two new businesses, Cabela’s and Olive Garden, opened last year in Quil Ceda Village and business is “doing gangbusters,” Sheldon said.
The Tulalip Tribes continues to approach businesses that it feels are the right fit, Sheldon said. An additional 90,000-square-foot expansion at the Seattle Premium Outlets will open soon. Vacant land between Cabela’s and Home Depot could potentially become “restaurant row” with three or four different eateries.
This year, the Tulalip Tribes will also continue to work with the state Department of Transportation and the city of Marysville to improve safety and mobility at 116th Street NE and I-5 and work toward completing a water pipeline project between north Everett and Tulalip. A partnership with state and federal agencies, the city of Marysville, and other organizations to restore the Qwuloolt Estuary is also moving forward, Sheldon said.
Before ending his speech, Sheldon added that the Tulalip Tribes is concerned about federal budget sequestration and is anticipating an 8 to 10 percent cut in programs should it happen.
“That gaming money, that goodwill that came our way, comes out in health plans, our elder-care program, police department, court system, road infrastructure, Boys &Girls Club support,” he said. “It’s still a challenge. We hope that there will be a solution back in (Washington) D.C.”