Officials anticipate conference center to break ground this month

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
The wait is finally over.
Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Council Treasurer Arthur Mothershed said Monday that the Tribe plans to begin the first phase of its casino development this month.
"We're very excited to at least get this first phase going," Mothershed said. "We hope this will show the city our commitment to developing this area. We think it's going to be great for the area. It's going to be a huge economic boost for Atmore, which we all know we need; it's going to drive in other businesses. It's going to be great for the area, no doubt about it."
The first phase of the project consists of the construction of a 20,000 square foot conference center, which will be home to 650 to 700 games while the second phase, the casino is under construction.
"We have to have somewhere to keep our game operation going while we plan the rest of it out," Mothershed said. "We're pretty excited about that. Because of the location of the Bingo Hall it is important for us to get something to keep our interim gaming going while we're working on the casino, hotel and parking garages. All of it is in the planning phase right now outside of the conference center."
The plans are currently being finalized, but are expected to be completed soon.
"I hope to have the final plans in place by the end of the week for bidding," Mothershed said. "We'll bid those out and hope to have a shovel in the ground within a couple of weeks."
Once the main casino is complete, the conference center will serve its purpose.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell was pleased with the news of the project moving forward.
"I'm always glad to see anybody move ahead and make progress," Shell said. "I wish them all the success in the world. We'll work together to make it a success for the both of us."
The cost of the conference center will be between $5 million and $6 million. Mothershed said that the Tribe's casino construction in Wetumpka went smoothly and he expects to see more of the same with the Atmore project.
"We've had a lot of success up north with being able to get buildings built," he said. "The standard we put ourselves to is 90 days. We've had a lot of success once we've got the pad built, 90 days later; we've been able to open the doors. The storms, not just Hurricane Katrina, but Hurricane Rita as well and even Dennis to some degree before that, has delayed the availability and delivery of materials and that could slow down the process somewhat, but that's something we're obviously not going to complain about. We would love to have it complete by Christmas or New Years, but if it runs a couple of weeks into January, we're not going to complain."
Mothershed also said that there will be several renovations performed to the current Bingo Palace.
"We won't immediately take all of the games out of the bingo facility, we can work through it," Mothershed said. "As a matter of fact, we're already starting part of the renovation process inside the Bingo Palace. So all these things are kind of running side-by-side."
The Poarch Creek Tribe's other plans for the 19-acre site include a 45,000 square foot casino, a 225- to 250-room hotel and parking garages, which will all make up the second phase.
"We hope the second phase will follow shortly behind the first," Mothershed said. "We're going to be able to finance the first phase internally, but the second phase is going to be require outside financing because the scope of this may run $120 to $150 million total. It's a pretty big investment on our part and obviously we don't have those kind of funds laying around."
Mothershed said the conference center would tie into both the hotel and casino.
"The conference center, casino and hotel will all compliment each other, but we obviously feel they will be the driving force behind the other retail and family-oriented entertainment.
Additional phases of the project will follow, which include room for more than 14 retail establishments with the option of several bigger retail stores and an amusement area, which was represented by a water park on the artist rendered drawing of the overall project. The Tribe also would like to construct a 27-hole golf course on the land north of Interstate 65 owned by the city.
"We would like to either partner with the city to develop the land, maybe purchase or work with them to bring in an outside entity to build the golf course," Mothershed said.
As for those who enjoy playing bingo the old fashioned way, don't fret, the Tribe will still offer it throughout the construction phases and following its completion.
"Bingo has obviously served its purpose and it's not going away," Mothershed said. "We will still offer live bingo here. The current building is 20 years old and we plan to do a mild revamp inside the Bingo Palace and give it a little more of a facelift. It may be with us for another year or so, I'm not exactly sure how long. It's all according to how it falls into the master plan."
It has not yet been determined what the current bingo hall building will be used for after the new casino is built, but Mothershed said it might be used as an administration building.
Not only will the new casino complex bring in added revenue into the area, but also a lot of jobs as well.
"It will require us to hire quite a few people, probably in the neighborhood of 800 to 1,000 people once we get the new building up and going," Mothershed said.
As for the entire project, the Tribe hopes construction of each phase will move along quickly.
"We like to think we can make it happen totally within two years," Mothershed said. "Once we get the development plans in place, from that point, it will be two years. We really think with the right planning, once the plans are finalized with the casino and hotel, we can get it done in 15 months. We don't have to wait exactly for the conference center to be complete before we start on the casino and hotel, but certainly they will be well underway before we start the other amenities."

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