Graton Casino Breaks Ground on Resort near Rohnert Park
September 02, 2015
By Clark Mason
The Graton Resort & Casino on Wednesday unveiled plans for a 200-room hotel and convention center, an expansion intended to make the Bay Area’s largest gambling operation into a bona fide travel destination in the heart of Wine Country.
The $175 million hotel and convention center, which will be housed in a six-story building rising from the south side of the casino outside Rohnert Park, is scheduled to open next fall. It comes 22 months after the opening of the original $800 million casino.
With spacious rooms starting at 500 square feet and stretching to 2,600-square-foot suites for high rollers, its tribal owners said the hotel will offer luxurious accommodations and a 20,000-square-foot meeting and convention space.
“It is the icing on the cake. It is what people need,” Graton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris said during a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday.
It will be the fourth-largest hotel in Sonoma County, behind only the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country in Santa Rosa, the Doubletree by Hilton in Rohnert Park and the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma.
The Graton Resort & Casino, which opened adjacent to Rohnert Park in November 2013, bills itself as the classiest and biggest gambling and entertainment destination in the Bay Area, but until now lodging has not been part of the package.
“Many people want to come to the Wine Country. They want to play. They want to gamble. They want to eat. They want to take a tour,” Sarris said. “They can do it all in one place now with the most beautiful, luxurious settings.”
Sonoma County and Rohnert Park officials who were at the groundbreaking seemed receptive to the expansion, which is on tribal land and not subject to local land use approval.
“Obviously we had some hiccups to start with, but the tribe’s been very good to work with,” said county Supervisor David Rabbitt, who added that the hotel, like the casino, will be a top-notch venue and create jobs.
The hotel project will employ 1,000 union members during construction and create 150 permanent jobs once it opens in the fall of 2016, according to Sarris.
Rohnert Park City Councilman Jake Mackenzie said while some argue that the casino doesn’t add to the quality of life, the Graton Rancheria has “been good neighbors with the city of Rohnert Park.”
The tribe has honored its agreement with the city, he said, which includes $8 million in annual payments to mitigate impacts of the casino resort.
The 340,000-square-foot casino is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and managed by Las Vegas-based Station Casinos. It features about 3,000 slot machines, 130 table games and has 5,000 parking spaces.
The facility includes a dozen restaurants and an 8,700-square-foot events center for concerts and special events. Currently the concert audience capacity is around 500 to 600, but that is expected to double to as much as 1,200 people, according to casino general manager Joe Hasson.
The new hotel will connect to the south side of the casino. It will have an “opulent” lobby and bar, a “luxurious spa,” and a pool area that will serve as an extension of the hotel lobby and provide an outdoor connection to the convention and meeting space.
The expansion was designed by Friedmutter Group, and the general contractor is PENTA building group, some of the same players that were behind Station Casinos gaming palaces in Nevada — the Red Rock and Green Valley resorts.
But about 75 percent of the construction workers for the hotel are expected to come from the local area, about the same percentage that built the casino, according to Jack Buckhorn, secretary-treasurer of the Building & Construction Trades Council in Sonoma County.
The Graton casino was the subject of unsuccessful legal challenges by opponents who feared it would bring an increase in traffic and crime, along with impacts to water supply.
The tribe has its own wells, but gets sewer service through Santa Rosa’s subregional wastewater system.
Property crimes rose 7 percent in Rohnert Park in 2014 while violent crimes dropped 11 percent, according to state Department of Justice. Rabbitt acknowledged opponents’ concerns about crime, but said the casino’s security is first class and the county has taken steps to ensure there are enough sheriff’s deputies in the area to respond when needed.
“Anytime you bring this amount of people to a community, crime will go up. Yes it’s a concern, something we work at,” he said.
Tribal Chairman Sarris said that prior to the casino’s existence, people feared what they didn’t know.
“Once they see the hotel, they will see all the things they worried about did not come to pass,” he said.
As far as crime, he said the casino is one of the safest places you can be.
“Our surveillance system can count the hairs on your head,” he said.
Visitors will have an increasing number of accommodations to choose from in Rohnert Park, a city of more than 42,000 residents with at least eight existing hotels and motels.
Just down the street from the casino, work is underway on the 163-room Oxford Suites. There are several other hotels planned or proposed in Rohnert Park, including a 125- to 300-room hotel on the former stadium lands behind Costco.
“Something about what’s happening here, our location, is helping create a demand for hotels,” Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz said. Part of it, he said, may be the reputation the city has for being easy to work with for businesses and developers.
Will hotel rooms get overbuilt? Schwartz said it is a possibility and why developers of the stadium lands, for instance, are doing their due diligence before deciding on the size of their project.
Ken Fischang, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, said all the development is a sign of a healthy tourism market. More than 80 percent of the hotel rooms in Sonoma County were occupied last month, he said.
“This really helps the high-end niche market,” he said of the Graton hotel.
Hasson said his team, which works with Station Casinos, will operate the hotel. Room rates have not yet been determined.
He said other hotels in the vicinity don’t hurt Graton, in fact, they are a plus.
“From a casino operator’s point of view there’s no such thing as too many hotel rooms,” he said.
“When people can come from far and wide and enjoy a comfortable hotel room — whether it be the terrific-caliber rooms that we build here, or if they can find them nearby — that is a good result for this business,” he said.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @clarkmas.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct title for Ken Fischang, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism