Five-Year Anniversary for ilani Celebrates Progress, Luxury Hotel Under Construction


At ilani, a shining blue tower is rising from the ground into the sky.

When complete, the nearly 300-room luxury hotel will be the latest expansion of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s most prominent venture. Breaking ground roughly a year ago, the project was at the forefront of the tribe’s celebration of five years of ilani on April 25. Around 100 people gathered to commemorate the tribe’s progress on reservation land.

It was “a monumental day for the Cowlitz Tribe,” Mohegan Gaming CEO Ray Pineault said. The Cowlitz Tribe and Mohegan have partnered in the ilani endeavor since the beginning, providing expertise on casino and entertainment endeavors from Connecticut to Washington state.

Mohegan Tribal Councilor Joe Soper said the partnership went beyond a mere business matter, and was “really a true union between two culturally rich tribes” who shared a similar vision in providing the experience at ilani.

As part of the event, the construction crew hoisted a metal beam signed by community members to the top of the hotel structure as part of a “topping off” ceremony for ilani’s latest project. Five years in, ilani employs some 1,500 people, with the hotel expansion planned to include hundreds more, President and General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose said.

“When we look at this beacon of progress for the Cowlitz Tribe, it certainly is amazing,” Fox-LaRose said about the hotel, now substantially clad in its reflective blue facade.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox-LaRose said the Cowlitz Tribe decided to postpone the hotel project for six months. She mentioned while the hotel was going up ilani made a more  low-profile expansion late last year which added two restaurants to the building.

When complete, the nearly 300-room hotel will feature 28 suites and a pool with a retractable wall and private cabanas. The 14-story building will host a restaurant on the top floor which will be open to the public. It will feature an hourly child care service provided by Kids Quest. The casino resort anticipates the hotel will be open for business in about a year.

Chuck Jones, vice president of the Las Vegas-based architecture and interior design firm Friedmutter Group, remembers when the land ilani sits on was a grass prairie. Jones commented on design features like the portico that uses shapes drawn from those of canoes, and the blue glass, which when reflecting the sun, will make it look like the sky.

Jones said it was a personal honor to be involved with the project.

“It doesn’t matter what the building looks like,” Jones said. “It matters about the relationship and the legacy that you build for people.”