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Artistically driven with family appeal

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Introducing pueblo's new venture: Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino

CANASTOTA, N.Y. - Storms are brewing in Santa Fe, N.M. In this case, that's a good thing.

The Pueblo of Pojoaque and Hilton Hotels Corp. have combined forces to produce the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino. Uniting history and culture with global hospitality, this venture is sure to provide the ultimate travel experience. It is set to open Aug. 12.

Richard Ross, director of sales and marketing for Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder, said the resort is geared towards a broad-based audience.

''We have so many different things at the resort. The new construction is comprised, of course, by the new resort structure inclusive of the 390-unit Hilton. It includes the new casino. It includes the 16,000-square-foot spa. It includes the 66,000-square-foot event center and conference center, plus no less than nearly a dozen food and beverage, dining and entertainment options.

''Between all of those different facets of operations and amenities, the resort really is geared towards people of all ages: folks that are in Santa Fe for leisure travel and vacations; it appeals towards meeting planners and conventioneers; it appeals to our local market in the way of catering, galas, weddings, things of that nature.

''We have such a diverse array of amenities and such a broad spectrum of facility that there's something here for everyone. ... It's a very all-inclusive destination resort and was designed that way from the get-go and appeals to ... all age groups, and all different demographics.''

Ross was especially excited about a new state-of-the-art children's center.

''I feel it's just a wonderful amenity for families and people who might otherwise not choose to come to Santa Fe, because there's something to do here for their children. It even has a TV room and movie theater. It's pretty slick.''

Aside from the list of amenities and offerings, the new casino will appeal to the gaming aficionado.

The casino will include 1,200 slot machines, 22 table games and a 10-table poker room. Thunder Alley is sure to draw attention as well. Located in the southeast wing of the casino with 150 slot machines, special lighting and sound equipment will showcase a ''thunder and lightning'' effect indicating a special promotion. Thunder Alley will be a non-smoking area.

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Another special attribute of the resort is the showcasing of nearly 200 pieces of authentic American Indian art created by tribal artisans of pueblos throughout New Mexico. Each piece was created for this venture and will be displayed throughout the resort. Such artwork includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, pottery, carvings, tapestries and other pieces. These pieces help to tie the pueblo theme together.

Pojoaque Gov. George Rivera touched on why the theme for the resort was so important.

''We very much wanted the identity of the pueblo people in this resort because that's who we are. We didn't need to bring in any other theme or re-do somebody else's culture. We have a very rich, thriving culture here. ... We had people, both artists and cultural consultants, to draw from here.''

Being an artist, Rivera had an eye for what he was looking for. He elaborated more on how it came together artistically.

''Pretty much I worked with the architect [Thalden Boyd Architects] on big parts. And then I brought in many graphic artists from the pueblo, and we worked with the architect on all the details as well. We have a team that I call the aesthetic team, and we basically approved the wallpaper, the carpet, the artwork and followed through with the architect and the builders to make sure that the building represented as we wanted it to be.''

Because of the hard work and dedication of everyone involved, the deadline for the opening was pushed up to the Aug. 12 date.

''Originally, the resort was scheduled to open in November of this year and through the grace of a great contractor and building crew ... we were actually able to accelerate the date of the opening into August, which is very unusual, but something we're very proud of,'' Ross said.

''The pueblo and Hilton have partnered in a multiyear sponsorship with the Santa Fe Indian Market, which is the largest tourist event that takes place in Santa Fe on the calendar year. The Indian Market takes place in the latter stages of August, so our opening ties very nicely to our ability to support travelers and vendors and artists that are coming to Santa Fe for the annual Indian Market this year.

''We will kind of open quietly for a month. And then our grand opening celebrations are scheduled for the week of Labor Day. The key date in that is the third of September, and that's when we'll actually have our ceremonial ribbon and festivities that support the ribbon-cutting event.''

Rivera never forgot the importance of the culture of the pueblo people throughout this endeavor.

''The question that we always asked ourselves when the architect would give us something to approve, we would ask ourselves, 'Does that say pueblo? Does that say Native American?' And if it didn't, then we would figure out a way to integrate some of our symbols or themes into the architectural nature,'' he said.

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