Jimmy Buffett's iconic brand is coming to the banks of the Arkansas River.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation officials have announced plans to build a Margaritaville Casino and Resort near their existing River Spirit Casino in south Tulsa.
The estimated $250 million construction project will include a 500-room hotel tower, convention and theatre space, and a Margaritaville restaurant, bar and retail complex, Creek officials said in a March 19 news release -- describing the project as "the largest private Arkansas River development in Tulsa's history."
"We're excited that we're going to be collaborating with the Margaritaville group. We feel like it's a good mesh. We're known for being leaders in the Indian gaming. ... They're known for being at the top of the entertainment part of the industry," Principal Chief George Tiger said in an interview.
Construction has yet to start, but "initially, we're looking at early fall, maybe around August" for work to begin, Tiger said, adding that the new site will be "just north of the present casino" and open probably in 2015. Existing casino operations will not be disrupted, he said.
John Cohlan, chief executive officer for Margaritaville Holdings, said the project has been under consideration "for about two years."
"We like places that like us," Cohlan said, declining to discuss business terms of the partnership. "We like people who come to us and say, 'Hey, we think Margaritaville will be great here.' ... The casino's been very popular here for a lot of years. We're just thrilled to be here."
The Creek Nation began operating bingo games in 1984 at their site near E. 81st Street and Riverside Drive, which has been owned by the Creeks since 1835 when it has handed over as a "worthless" sandbar, said Jerry Floyd, general manager for River Spirit.
The operation grew with gaming. Then, in 2008, the Creeks announced plans for River Spirit Casino, which opened in 2009.
River Spirit Casino has approximately 200,000 square feet of gaming area, while the Margaritaville-branded casino area will be about 45,000 square feet.
But by adding what's described as an upscale hotel as well as other entertainment and meeting venues, the Creek Nation is fulfilling ambitious expansion plans first laid out in 2008. In its announcement, the Creeks dubbed the project "Phase II" of their river development.
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COURTESY OF RIVER SPIRIT CASINO
"We already have an incredible facility, but this build out is allowing us to become a true destination resort," Pat Crofts, chief executive officer for Muscogee (Creek) Nation Casinos, said in a statement announcing the new resort.
According to plans, the development will feature a special events venue able to seat 750 to 1,000 people. The theatre will seat up to 2,400 and feature a lounge and bar area.
In an interview, Crofts described the hotel as a 22-story glass tower, while at the casino and restaurant "there will be a lot of palm trees," he added, along with shrimp-boat tables and flowing volcanoes, part of the themes unique to the Margaritaville image.
Visitors will know they're near a river, with the site featuring "huge decks and patios overlooking the river," Crofts said. The hotel will feature indoor and outdoor pools.
Cohlan said Margaritaville locations offer "destination dining" and have found success in crowded markets like Orlando and Las Vegas.
"Really, we are better known for our dining experience, our entertainment experience. We view gaming as a form of entertainment," Cohlan said.
Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, praised the economic impact the project is expected to bring to the area.
"The construction of this exciting project alone is expected to bring a $225 million dollar economic impact during the 18-24 months of building," Neal said in a statement. "This impacts each of us, from the small business vendors supplying materials to the construction worker who shops at our local grocery stores and retailers."
Once open, the facilities are expected to provide for 800 jobs, with an estimated payroll of $38 million.
Dallas-based architecture firm HKS will lead design work on the project, working with McBride Companies. Manhattan Construction and Redstone Construction will work together on the construction side of the project, with Tulsa-based Program Management Group Native also involved.
Buffett's Margaritaville brand began in 1987 with a Key West, Fla. location. Today, Margaritaville in Key West operates as a restaurant and retail site, but the brand in 2011 began operating a casino in Las Vegas. Last year, a casino and resort opened in Biloxi, Miss.
Jimmy Buffett, 66, still draws large crowds as a touring musician. Crofts said Buffett's agent is working to bring the singer to the BOK Center, with hopes of multiple visits before Buffett comes to town for the grand opening of the facility.
In a written statement, Buffett described his connection to Tulsa.
"I am happy to bring a few palm trees and frozen concoctions to the banks of the Arkansas River," Buffett said in the statement. "The first time I ever saw Tulsa was from the stage at Cain's ballroom awhile back. It is an honor to be returning as part of this great new entertainment complex in association with River Spirit and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I look forward to getting back to Tulsa and playing there again real soon."
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