Cherokee-led firm gets going on new casino
After just a year in business, a Cherokee-based construction management company has landed the biggest trout in town — the $110 million Cherokee County casino construction project.
Earlier this year, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians approved the creation of a 50,000-square-foot casino on 85 acres of tribally owned land near Murphy. The project includes a 300-bedroom hotel as well.
The tribe broke ground on the new casino Oct. 15 with representatives from the tribe, the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, Caesars Entertainment and Harrah’s Cherokee Resort and Casino in attendance. Just prior to the groundbreaking, the Eastern Band announced that it had signed a management agreement with Caesars Entertainment.
“This agreement represents the continuation of an already successful partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Caesars Entertainment Corporation,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks in a news release. “Caesars is known for its world-class facilities and top-notch management style. We are proud to be associated with such a highly regarded partner in the world of gaming.”
Hired to tackle the monumental project was Sneed, Robertson & Associates, a young construction management firm co-founded by Erik Sneed, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band and University of North Carolina graduate.
Getting the job goes a little beyond lucky and experience, however. Sneed is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band, giving him a step-up compared to other companies. There aren’t any other Cherokee-owned project management companies based in the area.
“It definitely was a niche for us,” Sneed said.
As a sovereign nation, the tribe is allowed more leeway and doesn’t have to award a job to the lowest bidder like towns, counties and the state must legally do. The Eastern Band can also give preference to companies or people because they are Cherokee or part of another federally recognized tribe. That is not to say, though, that Sneed isn’t qualified. He is.
From 1997, the year it opened, until last year, Sneed worked as Director of Facilities and manager of Development, Design and Construction at Harrah’s Cherokee Resort and Casino located in downtown Cherokee.
When the tribe approved of a $633 million expansion of the casino, Sneed oversaw the construction of the two new hotel towers and the expansion of the gaming floor and retail spaces.
“I’d been there since the beginning,” Sneed said.
An economic engine
The Murphy casino is expected to be a boon for jobseekers in the region, particularly for economically depressed Cherokee County. Sneed estimated that his company will hire about 900 employees during the two years it will take to complete the small casino.
“It creates jobs. It boosts the economy,” Sneed said.
In addition, Caesar’s Entertainment will hire another 1,400 employees to staff the casino as dealers and on-site managers as well as food service, building maintenance and other service area workers.
Although the whole project won’t wrap for a couple years, Sneed said he hopes to open a portion of the casino next year. The first phase includes a 25,000-square-foot casino floor with 500 slots and everything necessary to have it up and running in time for the 2014 holiday season, he said.
“We are under an aggressive deadline there,” Sneed said.
The Murphy casino will feature natural components in its design such as native stone and woods as well as eco-friendly elements.
“We have tried to be environmentally conscious,” Sneed said. “We will make the same kind of choices for Murphy.”
The casino will start out small, but there is potential for future expansion.
“We always have in our mind the casino global plan,” Sneed said. “What will the casino grow up to be?”
Since starting Sneed, Robertson & Associates last year, the company took over the completion of Harrah’s expansion. The final touch is an indoor and outdoor pool area, which Sneed expects to finish in time for spring. The heated outdoor pool, complete with a cabana and fire pits, adds to Harrah’s and the tribe’s goal of making the casino a resort destination.
“It is going to complement all the amenities we’ve already got,” Sneed said.
Although the pools will mark the end of the multimillion expansion to the downtown Cherokee casino, the stop in construction will likely be temporary.
“You have got to continually evolve your business,” Sneed said. “I think there will always be something going on here in Cherokee to keep the business dynamic.”