ARLINGTON — The Angel of the Winds Casino embarked on the biggest expansion in its history by unfurling a massive banner and handing out scores of shovels.
The casino, owned by the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, is starting work on a $64 million, 300,000-square-foot addition on the north side of the property.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning, a crew dropped the banner over the side of the building with the slogan, “A Change is in the Winds” in front of a crowd of a couple of hundred people.
Then the workers handed out shovels.
“We wouldn’t be here without the whole community, all of our employees, the tribe, the tribal employees, all of our vendors,” said Jeff Wheatley, assistant general manager of the casino. “Anybody who wants to participate, please grab a shovel.”
The expansion is expected to add room for up to 300 more slot machines, 16 new table games and a 200-seat buffet and a steakhouse called Whiskey Prime. There’s also a concert venue that seats up to 750 that can double as meeting space. The project also includes a 12-lane bowling alley.
“We looked at Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas where they have an entertainment type of venue, but have bowling going on,” said Travis O’Neil, Angel of the Winds general manager. “There’s this cool vibe and energy and that’s what we want to do with our casino.”
About half the project consists of a 575-stall parking garage.
The expansion, designed by the Cuningham Group and being constructed by Swinerton Builders, is expected to be complete by summer 2019.
“They know how important it is for us to get this open,” O’Neil said. “We know they’re going to put their horsepower behind this.”
The casino employs 600, but O’Neil expects that number to grow to at least 750 after the opening. He also noted that Swinerton will employ 400 construction workers on the project.
Brett Ewing, principal architect with the Cuningham Group, said he’s happy about the amount of thinking that went into this project. And he gave a nod to the Angel of the Winds’ motto, the World’s Friendliest Casino.
“The friendliest place, it’s very true,” Ewing said. “The service here, that’s the reason why you’re successful. It’s not necessarily bricks and mortar, it’s the staff that you have and it starts from the top and works its way down.”
While Tuesday was about the future, many of the tribal members who spoke at the event looked to the past.
Tribal member Carie van Eyk talked about how she never could have imagined the casino or what it has meant for the community 30 years ago when she was a young worker for the tribal offices.
“We used to call this area the Promised Land,” van Eyk said. “It was kind of a joke, there was some sadness, a lot of alcoholism and just not so happy times. Things have turned around and today our community is a lot healthier and times have changed, thank god.”
Tribal Chairman Shawn Yanity remembered when the casino was first envisioned.
“When we decided to look at gaming as an option to look to assist our tribe it wasn’t well received, not just with our membership, but also the community as well,” Yanity said. “It took a lot of work through the years to bridge that gap.”
He said the casino — and its future expansion — will help the tribe remain economically vital. He noted that the tribe of 320 employs 1,000 right now.
“This is our community,” Yanity said. “Our kids go to the public schools, we utilize the fire departments and the hospitals and the roads … as we grew, we wanted to make sure we brought everybody into the circle.”
The tribe recently gave an $85,000 grant to the Silvana fire department to purchase two sets of Jaws of Life, hydraulic rescue tools used to save people trapped during car wrecks.
“We’re really proud that the success we have is flowing into the community and lifting everybody up as well,” he said.