Ute Mountain casino unveils $5.5 million upgrade

Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 5:29 PM
New LED lighting around the building is part of the Ute Mountain Casino remodeling.
Apprentice manager Gary Hayes leads the countdown to turn on the lights around the building that were part of the remodeling at the Ute Mountain Casino.
Gary Hayes discusses the phases of the $5.5 million remodeling project at the Ute Mountain Casino.
Darren Whiteman speaks at the lighting ceremony for the remodeling at the Ute Mountain Casino.

A $5.5 million remodel of the Ute Mountain Casino and hotel in Towaoc was unveiled Dec. 27 during an evening blessing and lighting ceremony.

Apprentice General Manager Gary Hayes said it is the first exterior upgrade of the casino and hotel since they opened. The casino opened in 1992, and the hotel, in 2004.

“With the more than 2 million vehicles that pass by here every year, we need to do everything we can to stay competitive attract them into our resort to see what we offer,” he said.

The most noticeable improvements feature surround LED lighting and signage, as well as a newly designed porte-cochere and main casino entrance. An earthen color scheme on the resort buildings are highlighted by Ute Mountain Ute pottery designs and a prominent tribal seal.

“It gives the tribal community, our state and our employees a real sense of pride,” said tribal council member DeAnne Wall. “We are striving together for prosperity and have a vision for our people.”

The casino is financing the project through loans issued out of a Ute Mountain Ute fund earmarked for economic development, officials said. The fund was established from a water rights settlement on the Dolores River.

The casino contracted with iFive Design for the exterior remodel, which was installed over the last four months, Hayes said. The upgrade is the latest is a series of phased upgrades.

“The casino is investing into the future,” he said.

In April, $1 million was spent on a new and larger video marquee. Also, Kuchu’s restaurant was recently remodeled, and new games were installed. The resort’s next plan is to remodel the top floor rooms of the hotel, estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Casino employee and tribal member Chaz Hamlin said careers at the casino are becoming more attractive for tribal members.

“There is a lot of opportunity, and it feels good to work for a tribally owned enterprise,” he said. “I started out cleaning the kitchen on the overnight shift, and have moved up to customer service.”

The casino has 420 employees, including 159 Ute Mountain tribal members, or 38 percent, Hayes said.

The tribe is also working to expand its enterprises off the reservation, said Priscilla Blackhawk-Rentz, vice president of the tribe’s economic development board. The tribe has opened up a pottery trading post in Cortez, and purchased White River Construction company in Show Low. Arizona.

“We’re broadening our horizons to give tribal members employment opportunities off the reservation as well,” Blackhawk-Rentz said. “Our goal is to leave a legacy of economic development that our kids can build on into the future.”