The new I-5 interstate Exit 16 opens today. The $32 million renovation was paid for by the Cowlitz tribe who are set to open a new casino later this month.

The new I-5 interstate Exit 16 opens today. The $32 million renovation was paid for by the Cowlitz tribe who are set to open a new casino later this month.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Under a gentle rain Tuesday afternoon, members of the Cowlitz tribe, county government officials and community leaders gathered to dedicate the new I-5 interchange at Exit 16.

Car horns and sounds of rush hour traffic were briefly drowned out as tribe members beat traditional drums and sang an honor song to bless the $32 million renovation that leads to their new casino, which is set to open later this month.

It was fitting the dedication ceremony include song and the beat of a drum. After all the name of the new casino, Ilani, means “sing” in the Cowlitz language.

“We sing in joy today, we sing in honor, in all that we represent in our history,” said Tanna Engdahl who participated in the dedication ceremony.

Cowlitz chairman Bill Iyall.

Cowlitz chairman Bill Iyall.

Molly Solomon/OPB

The 368,000-square-foot gambling venue would be the largest and closest casino to Portland. It’s expected to draw 4.5 million visitors a year.

Cowlitz Chairman Bill Iyall expects the new freeway exit will soon be handling traffic headed to the casino.

“This is the culmination of many, many long days and long nights of work,” said Iyall. “It’s been obviously a long road for the Cowlitz.”

The Ilani Casino and Resort will open in late April.

The Ilani Casino and Resort will open in late April.

Molly Solomon/OPB

The tribe has faced several legal hurdles over the validity of their claim to reservation land. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from casino opponents, clearing the way for the new Cowlitz casino.

Opponents of the casino included the owners of two La Center card rooms. Spokesman John Bockmier said his clients were disappointed with the court’s dismissal.

“It’s been a very long journey,” said Bockmier. “What we’ll do now is continue on with our remaining business and do everything we can to make them the No. 1 option for folks in our community who are looking to recreate through gaming.”

At Tuesday’s dedication event, Cowlitz chairman Bill Iyall received cheers and drum beats when he reminded the crowd of the tribe’s legal victory.

“Now, we’re really able to get down to business,” he said.

The Ilani Casino and Resort is set to open later this month.