High stakes for Tulalips in high-class new hotel

TULALIP — Bill Topash and his brother took in the scene Friday just outside the Tulalip Tribes’ brand new hotel as the first guests wandered in the front doors.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Topash, a tribal member who used to live nearby but now is in Madras, Ore. “Twenty years ago, we would have never envisioned this. Ten years ago even. It’s a real tribute to our leadership.”

“I think we did good,” added his brother, Lee Topash, who took an active part in the early planning for the hotel.

The $130 million Tulalip Resort hotel and conference center, next to the tribes’ huge five-year-old casino, opened its doors with the goal of drawing in hotel guests who previously might not have considered staying in Snohomish County.

To attract that clientele, the luxury hotel is dressed to impress. Rich red carpet, lots of wood accents, three tall story poles and lots of attentive employees greet guests in the sprawling lobby. In all, the hotel contains tribal art valued at $1 million.

Upstairs, the well-­decorated rooms include iPod docks on the clock radios and sleek triple-headed showers. The windows offer views the Tulalips’ growing Quil Ceda Village area, including the large casino, outlet mall and concert ­amphitheater, and beyond that, I-5 and the Cascades.

Allison Howe and her three friends, all enjoying a “girls” weekend from Victoria, B.C., gawked at the new room after they were among the first to check in Friday.

A couple of the women said “wow” as they explored the room with helpful bellman Brandon Carlisle of Camano Island pointing out the room’s goodies, which include a 47-inch LCD high-definition TV.

Karen Corbet said they came primarily to shop at Quil Ceda Village’s Seattle Premium Outlets and other nearby shops, and the hotel’s opening happened to coincide with their trip.

She and her friends seemed especially impressed with the huge TV — standard in all the hotel’s rooms — and the luxurious bathroom.

“I like the rich wood. It makes it feel more warm than a regular hotel room,” Tracy Walker said.

The 12-story Tulalip hotel isn’t just Snohomish County’s largest inn. It’s the next piece of the diversified business empire the Tulalip Tribes have constructed over the past decade.

John McCoy, general manager of Quil Ceda Village, added that the hotel has long been envisioned on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

“When I came home in 1994, they were already talking about a hotel in the future. It always was a question of when, not if, we built it,” he said. “So we’re quite excited.”

The hotel was long planned, but the vision of creating a place to stay that rivals any luxury resort came later. Ken Kettler and Brett Magnan, president and executive vice president, respectively, of the Tulalip Casino Resort, said that when they came onto the project more than two years ago, tribal leaders were considering a more mid-range hotel — a place where visitors attracted by the casino, entertainment and shopping options could park themselves overnight.

Lee Topash admitted he favored that option early on. But some, including Kettler and Magnan, urged a more lavish approach that could distinguish itself from other hotels in the area and might appeal to a wider range of guests.

“We talked about the uniqueness of the resort and being here in Quil Ceda Village,” said Kettler, whose years of experience include working for Harrah’s casino resort in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and a tribal-owned resort near San Diego.

The result is a luxury hotel that’s “second to none,” Kettler said.

With rooms starting around $200 and topping out at several thousand dollars a night once the hotel’s introductory rates expire in a few months, the Tulalip hotel is going after a clientele that might otherwise stay in high-end rooms in Seattle or Bellevue. Except at Tulalip, Magnan said, the parking is free.

“The local hoteliers that were concerned before are seeing that we’re expanding the market,” Magnan said.

He touts the hotel’s proximity to I-5, its location close to Snohomish County’s recreational opportunities and the attractions right at Quil Ceda Village as a package that makes the hotel attractive to visitors. And high gasoline prices and airfares make it an alluring alternative to farther-flung resorts in Washington or even Las Vegas, he added.

“People are going to choose us over those farther driving or fly-away destinations,” he said.

Quil Ceda Village already attracts travelers from up and down the I-5 corridor, including Canada, with its gambling and shopping options. Because of that, Kettler said a huge promotional advertising campaign will urge visitors to “stay just a little bit longer” at the hotel.

Hotel consultant Michael Mohn agreed that the Tulalip hotel can’t be compared to anything else between Willows Lodge in Woodinville and Semiahmoo in Blaine, but that doesn’t guarantee it will thrive.

“There is a huge no man’s land there that’s relatively unserved. The big question is how much of the luxury market can they attract up there,” said Mohn, principal with Kennedy, Mohn &Associates in Bothell.

Amy Spain, executive director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, called the new hotel the “grandest resort in Washington state, without a doubt.” She thinks the hotel will be busy almost right away.

“I think their opening summer will be fabulous, especially with the opening coinciding with our peak season,” Spain said.

Already, the hotel is set to be the official host of about 300 Skate America participants and officials when that pre-Olympics event comes in October to the Comcast Arena in Everett.

Spain said the new top-tier hotel rooms give the county more options for hosting similar events. The hotel’s convention space, totaling 30,000 square feet, also is the largest in one place between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

Sandy Ward, marketing director at the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour in Mukilteo, said she’s been working with the Tulalip Tribes about joint promotions between the hotel and the Future of Flight, which is Snohomish County’s single-largest tourist attraction.

If the hotel fills up consistently, there already are plans for adding a second hotel tower. McCoy said planning for other tribal business enterprises also continues.

“We have some irons in the fire, but they’re too early to talk about,” he said.

For now, there still are details to finish and open at the hotel, including an elaborate swimming pool and atrium area and a large spa treatment facility. A grand opening for it all is set for August.

As construction workers hurried inside and outside the hotel to finish last-minute details last week, Magnan reflected on the big event.

“Everyone has said, ‘You’re almost finished,’ ” Magnan said. “I tell them, no we’re almost beginning. Now that we’ve built it, we have to run it.”

His employees seem ready and willing. Jaime Smith, a doorman who lives Marysville, stood ready to welcome the first guests Friday.

“This place is beautiful,” he said. “It’s going to be the best hotel.”

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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