Tribal Economic Impact 2018 - Page 18

Cherokee Nation bringing in more jobs with hospital, casino Courtesy rendering of Cherokee Springs Plaza. BY SARAH TERRY-COBO THE JOURNAL RECORD TAHLEQUAH – Two new major tribal projects under construction in Tahlequah are already bringing in more economic development and diversifying the town’s industries, said Cindy Morris, president of the Tahlequah Area Chamber. The Cherokee Nation’s multimillion-dollar expansion of its W.W. Hastings Medical Center has spurred local officials to branch out into new sectors, aside from just river-and-lake- based tourism. The new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah and convention center will anchor the new Cherokee Springs Plaza retail shopping center. “Tahlequah is now centered for prime growth,” Morris said. The W.W. Hastings Center expansion is a joint project between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. Indian Health Service center. In 2013, Cherokee Nation Businesses pledged $100 million from its casino profits to expand several health care centers, including the original Hasting Hospital complex. Construction is expected to be complete by 2019 and the hospital will create about 850 health care jobs, according to Julie Hubbard, Cherokee Nation spokeswoman. Morris said the job growth from the hospital system has spurred comprehensive planning from the city’s industrial authority. They’re already seeking more medical- related businesses for possible expansion in the city’s industrial park, rather than the traditional factory jobs. Combined with the Hastings Center expansion, Northeastern 1 8 T R I B A L E C O N O M I C I M PA C T • J U LY 2 0 1 8 State University’s nursing and optometry programs, those opportunities help prime the workforce. “From the W.W. Hastings expansion, that allows us to bring in quality medical-sector jobs,” Morris said. The Cherokee Springs Plaza has 154 acres of space and is next to the nation’s Cherokee Springs Golf Course. Already a car dealership, a Buffalo Wild Wings, a Sonic Drive-In and a Taco Bueno have opened there. The tribe estimates that almost 30,000 cars pass by the plaza on a daily basis. It has also attracted the state’s first Newk’s Eatery. The plaza will house the tribe’s new casino in the city as well. The Cherokee Casino Tahlequah will be 92,000 square feet once it’s completed, with 33,000 square feet of convention space. The existing casino employs about 174 workers and the expansion is estimated to add 220 more. Chief Bill John Baker said the casino won’t be much bigger than the one in Tahlequah, but the convention center will rival the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in size. “We want to be able to bid on state conventions, such as the state firefighters convention, and national conventions, like the Head Start event,” he said. “We’ll be able to sit down about 1,000 people for dinner. It should bring a lot of people to Tahlequah to see our culture, our history, our museums, and the beautiful area.” The casino and convention center will also have a fine-dining steakhouse and another restaurant. Baker said the tribe is still discussing whether it will operate the steakhouse as its own place or enter into some type of partnership with an existing place. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is an operating partner with Ruth’s Chris Steak House at the River Spirit Casino in Jenks. But convention recruitment requires more than dining space. Meeting planners look for a certain number of hotel rooms. That’s phase two, Baker said. “We hope to announce a large hotel project on the property in August,” he said. “We’ll see if that’s big enough to accommodate our