The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians opened its new 109-room hotel tower on its Alpine reservation on October 30th and while it took The Xpera Group five years to get the contract, the process has gone smoothly for a complicated job.
As explained by David Pallinger, Xpera CM president, there have been challenges.
“We had to tear down an existing administration building and reconfigure the site so it would blend in with the existing facility,” Pallinger said. “We also had to work on aesthetics, but it was more important for this to work from an operational standpoint.”
Pallinger added this included providing service connections between the two hotel towers, but Xpera realized early on that it would make little sense to have two lobbies for the hotel complex.
“We had to put a connection underground and a new basement for the kitchen service,” Pallinger said.
That said, Pallinger emphasized that not only is the new hotel tower under budget, it is ahead of schedule as well.
The Viejas tribe has played up the new hotel addition on its website.
“Among these (hotel) additions are five luxury suites, including the lavish “premier suites” with many high-end amenities, such as multiple HDTVs, pool table, wet bar, exquisite handcrafted furnishings, oversize walk-in shower, Jacuzzi with whirlpool jets, and much more,” the resort states.
Construction started on the new hotel tower in June of last year.
“Planning was for the second tower was started during the recession,” said Pallinger. “They (Viejas) were looking ahead and they hit the market at just the right time.”
Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality Group, said while the strength of Indian casino hotels are “nowhere where they were prior to the recession,” their prospects are looking better since.
Reay emphasized that Indian casino hotels like Viejas must distinguish themselves if they are to succeed in a very competitive market, however.
Tony San Pietro, Viejas vice president of entertainment, says it’s not about competition.
“The current construction is not focused on competitiveness. It’s all about providing amenities and options for our guests,” San Pietro said.
San Pietro added that his existing hotel has managed to maintain 100 percent occupancy since it opened in the spring of 2013.
Matthew Robinson, co-founder of the KlasRobinson Q.E.D. consulting firm, wrote in the Indian Gaming publication that if such a 100-room hotel (roughly the size of Viejas’ expansion) manages to maintain a 70 percent occupancy with an average of 1.8 guests per room, it amounts to 45,990 guests – or the equivalent of a Joplin, Mo. or LaCrosse, Wisc.
Robinson notes these hotels are dependent on their casinos their survival.
Separate from the hotel project, Viejas’ expanded casino now boasts 15,000 square feet of additional floor space with Las Vegas-style gambling including more than 2,500 slot machines.
Other features at the resort include the Luxury Aveda spa, the Viejas Bowl, Fun Zone Arcade, and the ShowCourt with live multi-media performances.
Along with a large buffet offering that has become a mainstay of casinos in the county, the resort has a variety of restaurants.
The Viejas Casino & Resort also has an event center with 55,000 square feet of meeting, pre-function and outdoor event space, a ballroom and a pool.
“Hotels affiliated with casinos operate in a different manner from typical, non-casino properties. The hotels are primarily ancillary facilities -- they exist to serve casino patrons and boost casino demand,” Robinson told Xpera.
“Although, along with other ancillary facilities, they may be designed to be
attractions in themselves, they are specifically intended to attract people to spend time and money at the casino,” Robinson continued. “By getting a casino guest to spend the night, they will likely spend more time on the gaming floor. Hotel rooms at casinos also enable a property to attract patrons from greater distances.”
One thing is for sure, there is plenty of Indian gaming hotel activity across the country. In an April column that appeared in Indian Gaming in April, Robinson wrote that as of December 31, 2014, there were 189 Indian casino hotel properties with some 45,900 hotel rooms in the U.S.
Robinson said six new casino hotels will be opening this year around the country and another five (including Viejas) will be expanding for a total of 1,900 rooms. Eight new Indian casino hotels will be opening in 2016 and another three hotels will expand the tally to 2,200 new rooms next year.
Robinson told Xpera that California has 32 Indian casino hotels with a total of nearly 6,600 rooms, and the San Diego region has seven Indian casinos with hotels for a total of 2,825 rooms.
Along with Viejas, there are also Indian casino-affiliated hotel rooms at the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino near Lakeside, the Pala Casino west of Palomar Mountain, Harrah’s Rincon Resort near Valley Center, the Valley View Casino & Hotel in San Pasqual, the Sycuan Golf Resort (formerly known as Singing Hills) & Casino in El Cajon The last Indian hotel casino considered to be in this area is the Pechanga Resort & Casino just outside of San Diego County in Temecula.
The Xpera Group, offers a wide range of services, such as construction forensics, property condition assessment, quality assurance work, walkaway auditing, and economic and market research among other functions.