Upcoming luxury hotel at Ilani Casino brings optimism for neighboring cities

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
April 26, 2022 1:44 a.m.

Since it opened in 2017, Ilani has reshaped neighboring towns. A new hotel holds promise for even more change.

Although it’s only halfway built, a large glossy hotel at the Cowlitz Indian Reservation is holding promise of more visitors for neighbors in the region.

An array of Southwest Washington officials, entrepreneurs and casino-goers attended an update Monday revolving around the 14-story, nearly 300-room hotel set to open in 2023.

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“It creates a hospitality option that we don’t have here in north Clark County,” said Jennifer Lindsay, mayor of nearby Ridgefield. “It’s a great opportunity for the city to drive economic growth.”

The event also served to celebrate the casino’s fifth anniversary. The hotel — currently a glass-and-concrete construction site — served as the backdrop for guest speakers, while roughly a hundred in attendance sat outside under the casino’s portico.

A drum circle performs on April 25, 2022 at Ilani Casino, in front of a forthcoming, 14-story hotel. Officials of neighboring towns hope the new hotel will bring more economic growth to the region.

A drum circle performs on April 25, 2022, at Ilani Casino, in front of a forthcoming, 14-story hotel. Officials of neighboring towns hope the new hotel will bring more economic growth to the region.

Troy Brynelson / OPB

Since it opened in 2017, Ilani has reshaped neighboring towns. Ridgefield opened a $20 million, multi-purpose sports complex in 2019, which also serves as home base for a collegiate baseball team. Lindsay named the complex as an example of an asset that could get a boost from a nearby hotel.

“It gives us now the ability to host larger regional events, tournaments and things like that, that we couldn’t really attract before,” Lindsay said.

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The mayor said Ridgefield officials are already in talks with casino officials about strategies to encourage the hotel’s future guests to explore outside the massive gaming complex. She said the aim is to drive more foot traffic toward local businesses.

“How can we encourage them to stay and play in north Clark County?” Lindsay said. “Just trying to curate opportunities for Ilani guests to experience Ridgefield. So that ends up being a positive for us. That’s how we’ve been thinking about it.”

It’s unclear how much of a windfall Ridgefield can anticipate. Lindsay said the city has not conducted any studies or forecasts.

Once open, the hotel is aiming to be a luxury stay. It’s billed as having indoor and outdoor pools, a top-floor restaurant and services like a fitness center, a spa and a salon. It’s a $30 million project, The Columbian newspaper reported in 2020.

“I think it’s a wonderful addition,” said Washington Rep. Larry Hoff, a Republican whose district encompasses the casino. “The hotel will bring additional businesses there.”

While Ridgefield officials could point to concrete examples of recent growth from the casino, officials in nearby La Center are waiting on growth to arrive.

Since the casino’s arrival, the town’s card rooms — once a prominent source of tax revenue — have mostly shuttered. The city also annexed property up to the I-5 junction with hopes of shaping the future economic growth there.

According to city councilor Thomas Strobehn, no substantial expansion has occurred on the La Center side of the freeway. A developer has submitted plans for a four-acre plaza with a hotel, gas station and a restaurant, but it has not materialized.

“I’d love to see it done,” Strobehn said. “Do I think they’re going to get it done? Sure. There’s money to be made there. And it’s only going to help the city of La Center, and the tribe itself.”

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