July 31, 2008

Highest Beam in Place at Casino Expansion

By Joy Hampton, Claremore Daily Progress, Okla.

Jul. 31--CATOOSA -- The new Cherokee hotel topped out Wednesday. The uppermost beam in the 19-story hotel under construction as part of Cherokee Casino and Resort's multi-million dollar expansion project went into place in front of hundreds of onlookers.

The crowd was comprised mostly of steel and construction workers and their families who turned out for the "topping out ceremony." The traditional ceremony included attaching a cedar tree and a broom to the final and uppermost steel beam.

Steel workers signed the beam before it was hoisted into place.

Principal Chief Chad Smith, a former steel worker, climbed to the top to assist with the beam's placement.

"Our council challenged me to do an honest day's work," said a smiling Smith to the crowd huddled beneath the shade of a tent.

Following the ceremony, Cherokee Nation Enterprises treated 250 steel and construction employees, family members and others to a barbecue lunch.

Pride in the project was the theme of the day.

"I've got pictures of this thing from the start to the finish," said iron worker Allen Groat of Green Country Steel.

Using his phone camera, Groat has documented the construction process.

Self-described as an "amateur photographer" Groat hails from Wagoner.

"I try to catch the right moment for stuff," he said of his stack of photos.

Adam Marshall of Claremore is an iron worker for Bennett Steel.

"It's probably one of the best projects we've done," said Marshall. "It's put a lot of people to work. It's benefited my family and a whole lot of other families."

Cherokee Nation Enterprises CEO David Stewart described the anticipated results of the expansion as the "best in Oklahoma."

"We want to make this the destination of choice," said Stewart. "We've reached the top point of the steel."

Smith said the steel top is matched by tops in service from CNE employees.

"Progress is well in hand," said Smith. "It's a result of great customer service provided by employees who keep customers coming back. We're very proud of our facility."

Smith said "a building is just a building ... It's the people that make a difference."

The cedar tree is a Cherokee tradition.

"When the highest beam goes into place you put a cedar with it," said Smith. "The cedar represents everlasting life."

Smith said the cedar is also a reminder that the Creator is always taller and greater than us all.

"Iron workers acknowledge that their work cannot exceed the work of the Creator," said Smith.

The attached broom indicates a "clean sweep." No one was killed in the building of the hotel, according to Bennett Steel iron worker Daryl Griffin.

Claremore resident and Premier Steel President Andy Vanaman said, "The broom tradition came in when submarines came back."

A clean sweep meant no one had died on the sub's run. Steel workers took on the "clean sweep" motto, said Vanaman.

Local officials praised the economic impact of the project.

"It's a wonderful day," said Catoosa Mayor Rita Lamkin. "The impact on our community is huge."

Lamkin said Catoosa will operate on a $4-million budget in the upcoming year -- a $1.5-million increase over last year's budget.

"You cannot downplay the tourism impact," said Lamkin. "It's real, it's here, and you've got to take advantage of it."

Stewart said the hotel was will be the best in Oklahoma with over 200 quality rooms and a spectacular view of the Tulsa-metro skyline.

Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill restaurant, the theater and the concert hall are scheduled to open during the first quarter of 2009. The convention space will follow soon after, said Stewart.

"We just want to thank Cherokee Nation for giving us the opportunity to work on these buildings," said Don Summers of Flintco.

Summers said safety has been a focus. "I tell the men to go home dirty, but go home," he said.

Architect Charles "Chief" Boyd said the project has been special, combining design elements of Art Deco with early Cherokee design details.

Cherokee detailing includes basketry and serpent designs that are "interwoven through" the project, said Boyd.

"It's special because it's Cherokee," said Boyd. "The concept of this project is tied into tourism."

The Art Deco is reminiscent of Tulsa's Art Deco past.

"We're trying to make it the premier resort area in the state," said Boyd. "It's tied to Tulsa and tied to the Tribe."

Boyd said the convention space with golf, gaming and restaurants is designed to make the resort a desirable location for bringing large conventions into the state.


To see more of the Claremore Daily Progress, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.claremoreprogress.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Claremore Daily Progress, Okla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.