From the 26th floor of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians developing resort-casino, you can see almost all of the tribes 32,000-acre reservation.
“Thats where we grew up,” said Chairman Maurice Lyons, looking north toward the hills. “We used to run cattle there. Thats how we made our living. Those areas of the reservation will never be developed.”
But the development of tribal land close to Interstate 10 is nearing completion. On Wednesday, tribal and civic leaders celebrated as a crane hoisted the last piece of structural steel onto the rooftop of the Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa in Cabazon. The casino resort is being built just west of the existing Casino Morongo, a low-rise building visible from the freeway.
“From this point on, its a seven-month effort to put all the bells and whistles in to be ready for a Nov. 1 opening,” said Dick Rizzo, chairman of Perini Building Co., the construction firm building the new casino.
Crews broke ground last May on the $250 million project. This week, 1,200 construction workers were working at the 44-acre site.
“In the next month or so that number will start to taper off,” said Aaron Zeligman, a project engineer with Perini.
The five-story parking structure is already complete, and the exterior of the building is about 80 percent finished. Drywall is up throughout the lower levels, including the 13,000-square-foot buffet.
“The last time I was in here, this was a big empty shell,” said Lyons as he walked through the sculpted dining area with seating for 900.
The Jerde Partnership, the architecture firm behind the project, said there was also room for expansion if the tribe outgrows the facility.
“Weve left a hole in the ground for a future (hotel) tower to come up,” said Sharmila Tankha, Jerdes project designer for the Morongo casino. “It could be low rise or high rise, whatever they choose to do.
“If they want to expand the casino, they could either add on to the existing casino –theres enough room for that — or they could have a separate building for a casino.”
The Morongos already operate the state maximum 2,000 slot machines and have repeatedly said they could benefit from more machines.
Lyons said the existing 100,000-square-foot casino could be used to operate more slot machines if compact negotiations with the state go well.
“If not, it may be used for convention space,” Lyons said. “It wont be torn down.”