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Kalispel Tribe announces $275 million expansion

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AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - The Kalispel Tribe's Northern Quest Casino will soon become the Northern Quest Resort with a huge expansion to begin this fall toward a $275 million expansion. The casino will essentially triple in size to 121,000 square feet. Gaming machines will increase from 1,400 to 2,000; 26 table games will go to 50; and six poker tables will increase to 15. The major expansion will occur in other components of the facility.

The new hotel will be contemporary with two towers, each containing 175 rooms of a minimum of 450 square feet in size. Each room will have the latest amenities, including flat screen TVs and luxurious showers.

Connecting the two towers will be the resort's signature feature: a 50,000-square-foot atrium that will soar nine stories high. It's designed to create an outdoor experience indoors with waterfalls, a meandering river, paths, lush vegetation and a cultural discovery grotto where tribal history and culture will be incorporated. One will find a perfect climate here year-round, despite the weather outside. Two adjacent restaurants will also open onto an event terrace.

Restaurants and beverage facilities include a steakhouse for fine dining, a 24-hour cafe, an Italian restaurant, buffet, sports bar, food court, wine bar, center bar and cabaret bar.

Another major addition is a 10,000-square-foot luxurious spa with the latest services and comforts for resort and casino visitors. An event center and theater will provide seating for 2,300, nearly double the capacity of the present pavilion.

A six-story parking structure will be added to provide 1,480 stalls for cars, bringing total parking spaces available to more than 3,000.

Artists' conceptual drawings show an exterior landscape featuring curving streams and rocks symbolic of the Kalispel Tribe's historic connection to the rivers and streams for their survival and culture.

Groundbreaking ceremonies took place July 23. A large crowd of tribal members, casino employees, media and the general public gathered to hear plans for Northern Quest Resort.

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April Pierre, communications manager for the tribe, served as emcee.

''We believe in family, honor, respect and dignity,'' she said. ''The Kalispel Tribe's goal is to ensure a bright, economic future for the entire region. We are very excited about our newest endeavor, a state of the art destination resort that will provide an economic boom to the region and entire state of Washington.''

Kent Caputo, Kalispel Tribe COO, explained the layout of the new resort and casino, describing the atrium as ''the real jewel of this property. It will be around 180 feet across and 270 feet in length and nine stories tall. What this allows us to have - more than 250 feet away from the casino and dropped down about 15 feet, with water falls and other features - is a resort experience, a dining experience and very far from just a casino experience. What is most exciting about this project is that the casino, while an integral part of this resort, is just a part of this overall resort experience the tribe is going to offer.''

Caputo spoke of the cultural grotto and how it would feature Native history and culture.

''One of the things we've learned is that people want to know about the tribe, about its culture, about its history, about Native American culture and history in this region generally. The tribe wanted to make sure it let people have that experience and have it in a resort environment rather than in a casino environment.''

Construction is expected to create about 500 jobs. When finished, the resort will employ an additional 420 permanent full -and part-time jobs, bringing the tribe's total employment to more than 1,400. That's more than three times the number of tribal members. Today, 80 percent of the jobs are filled by non-tribal members and $2.6 million has been donated to events and other organizations since 2001.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-11th District, enthused about what the tribe has accomplished.

''This is simply an incredible operation. I never dreamed they would have anything as wonderful as this. It's going to do so much for the entire area. It's so well-planned and their contributions to neighboring communities have already been wonderful. I'm so grateful that they've done everything I could ever have dreamed - and they're not done yet.''

A drum group called the Frog Island Singers performed an Honor Song prior to the ceremonial ''shovel dig.'' Frog Island was an ancestral gathering place for the Kalispel Tribe. Fifteen tribal members and others involved with the project then took golden-colored shovels in hand to turn the first shovels of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony.