PINE BLUFF -- Quapaw Nation and its Downstream Development Authority and development team on Tuesday zeroed in on the shape, scope, and details of Pine Bluff's future Saracen Casino Resort in anticipation of gaining the state's casino license next month.
Quapaw Nation Chairman John L. Berrey was on hand to outline plans for the construction and operation of the gambling facility at a town-hall style public meeting at Pine Bluff Convention Center.
The event, billed as a meet-and-greet for the community, was intended to line up area construction workers and subcontractors to begin work as soon as the license is in place. The developers also collected information from people to fill some of the 1,100 jobs that will be created just before the resort opens in summer 2020.
"Chairman Berrey says we will break ground 10 minutes after the license is in hand," said Sean Harrison, a spokesman for the Quapaw Nation.
Representatives from Nabholz Construction of Conway and Suffolk Construction of Dallas selected as the general contractors, as well as representatives from the Arkansas Small Business Association and the Department of Workforce Services were there to get information and talk to people in the crowd of some 400 that came to inquire about job opportunities.
Jo Keegan, with the Department of Workforce Services, said interest in jobs was high.
"We've been overwhelmed," Keegan said. There is a lot of interest."
Asked if people were more interested in construction jobs or casino jobs, she said it was a mixture of both.
Gerald Robinson, the county judge of Jefferson County, said he is hopeful that the casino, once built, will attract people to the area and have the effect of broadening the tax base.
"I think it will draw people here, bring people back home, and along with it, bring some hope and opportunities," Robinson said. "Is it a save-all? No. But it is a start."
Berrey said the $350 million development will sit on 300 acres east of the Pines Mall at the southeast corner of Martha Mitchell Expressway and U.S. 63/79. He said, once built, 1,100 employees will be hired to operate the planned 80,000-square-foot casino containing 2,000 slot machines and 50 gambling tables.
A planned 300-room hotel attached to the casino will house a conference center, indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, a spa, restaurants and lounges, and a museum and cultural center, he said.
"Tonight is just one more step in our journey to hopefully getting a license and developing a facility here that will hopefully lift up the economy in the local area," Berrey said. "We want to put an emphasis on hiring local folks and getting them integrated into the construction project. And, we're also hoping to make contact with some people who we would like to have work in our local facility."
Berrey added that an on-site health clinic, child learning center, and a day care will be included for the use of employees.
"Because we are a nation and not a for-profit, we can put the money we make back into the community, into our employees," he said. Berrey added that the Quapaw Nation has already begun working on projects in the community.
"We've fixed up a few basketball courts, some pavilions, we just finished repaving the county health department parking lot and we'll have it striped by next week," Berrey said. "We're kind of idle right now so we're just trying to stay busy. I was at the basketball court, one of them at Hudson Park, that we fixed up and that thing was just packed with kids playing basketball."
Although the state racing commission won't issue casino licenses until next month, Berrey said he believes the Quapaw Nation is on track to obtain the necessary license.
State Desk on 05/15/2019
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