A brown and gray 3,000-pound life-size steel and wood horse leaping out of a pool of cobalt glass greets you as you step into the airy, welcoming foyer-rotunda of the recently opened Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino in Chandler, Ariz. In just moments, you’ve left the dry desert landscape behind and entered a cool, soothing, earth-toned and water-themed oasis.
The tranquil environment gives no hint of the tumult, challenges and massive manpower it took to achieve this accomplishment – a 10-story, 242-room hotel with 160,000 square feet of gaming space and 12,000 square feet of meeting space – built for the Gila River Indian Community. Late to the project as the third general contractor hired to construct the hotel/casino, Kitchell’s Native
American division, with only 18 months left on the schedule, had to hit the ground running. And it did so in a big way. Its burn-rate ran up to $10 million a month, and several work periods saw up to 800 workers on site. This build was the epitome of a fast-track project.
Las Vegas Pizzazz
The Las Vegas-style casino, only 15 minutes from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport, includes 1,000 slot machines (some housed in a middle-of-the action glass-walled room for non-smokers), 50 multi-game tables, a poker room, a night club and a 1,400-seat theater. Shula’s American Steak House, Ling & Louie’s Asian Bar & Grill, Café 24/7, a food court and several bars provide a wide variety of dining options. A water theme runs throughout, even down to water glass inlaid in the restroom floors. For generations, the Gila River Indian Community has traditionally relied on a network of rivers, streams and canals to support its way of life. This history is reflected in giant poster-sized photos of waterscapes (by Native American photographers), stunning water features, cascading chandeliers evoking falling water, and aqua, teal, azure and indigo tiles and glass panels throughout.
Value Engineering Doesn’t Mean “Cheap”
Kitchell drew upon the skills of its Value Engineering team members to keep the project within budget, while not skimping on elegance. Working closely with JCJ Architecture and the Gila River Indian Community, Kitchell came up with alternative materials that did not compromise the project’s luxury. For example, incorporating a spray foam roof instead of a conventional roof saved $60,000. Other changes, including choosing different, yet just as effective and reliable, light fixtures, ceramic tiles and species of wood.
“We had the ability and the knowledge to see the architect’s vision and achieve it at a lesser cost while still maintaining that vision,” said K.C. Dougherty, senior project manager for the Native American Division. “It was never a matter of settling.”
Gentle Relocation of Local Wildlife
The team didn’t compromise either when it came upon a parliament (yes, this is the correct term) of Burrowing Owls, small, long-legged owls found in open landscapes like the desert. Dougherty says they were very concerned about the welfare of this small family of owls, so wildlife experts were brought in to gently relocate them to a new home nearby.
By maintaining focus while expecting the unexpected, Kitchell successfully turned over interim areas, including kitchens, loading docks and other behind-the-scenes areas, to the owners three months before opening. This enabled the Gila River Indian Community to hire and train employees, including chefs and management, prior to the official opening. And once opening day rolled around October 30, 2009, there was much to celebrate: a beautiful new hotel/casino on time and within budget.