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 The Greenbrier's New Casino to go Underground; Second Bunker to be Built

By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 7, 2009--The Greenbrier's new casino is going underground, but not in the resort's famous Cold War-era bunker.

Jim Justice, who bought The Greenbrier last month, said he plans to build a 50,000-square-foot casino underground near the hotel's main entrance. A reflecting pool will cover the casino.

Justice said he didn't want to spoil The Greenbrier's elegance and scenic views by building the casino on the resort's well-manicured grounds.

"It's got to go underground," Justice told the Sunday Gazette-Mail. "We'll have a second bunker. You're not building a structure that takes away from the style and elegance of The Greenbrier."

Justice acknowledged going underground would increase casino construction costs -- now estimated at $25 million. The completion date also has been pushed back.

Justice hopes construction will start mid-September and finish by next spring. He initially planned to open the casino Dec. 31.

During construction, guests will enter The Greenbrier through the hotel's north entrance.

Last month, Justice ruled out putting the casino in The Greenbrier's massive underground bunker, which was meant to serve as an emergency shelter for Congress during the Cold War.

The hotel's former owner planned to put a high-end casino in the bunker in 2000, but Greenbrier voters rejected gambling that year.

The hotel has since leased space in the bunker for document and data storage. Bunker tours generate revenue for the hotel and have become one of the resort's top attractions.

Justice said last week he wanted to keep the casino near hotel guest rooms, and the underground location near the main entrance would do that.

Guests could enter the casino by walking down a set of stairs -- or possibly a new glass elevator -- just inside the main entrance to the lower level, then double back near the existing reservation desk, which would be moved to a new location.

Justice plans to put additional shops along a hallway that would lead to the underground casino.

"You'll be going from a slow, elegant atmosphere into a high-energy atmosphere in the casino," Justice said. "It will take you into another dimension."

The underground location also will help to keep the casino's noise from disturbing The Greenbrier's tranquility, Justice said. "It just seems the right way to go," he said.

Justice has consulted with architects about the underground casino, but has yet to select one for the project. He previously said he wanted to hire an architect who has experience designing casinos in Monte Carlo or Dubai.

"We have a very short list right now," Justice said. "I hope to have schematic drawings in six weeks or less."

Justice plans to revive the struggling resort as a tourist and conference destination.

The casino's patrons will be limited to guests and members of The Greenbrier Sporting Club's luxury home development. People registered for events at the resort also will be allowed to gamble -- provided 400 rooms are occupied at the time.

In November, Greenbrier voters approved gambling at the resort.

Last month, Gov. Joe Manchin signed a bill into law that will allow The Greenbrier to keep a larger share of gambling profits. In exchange, the resort will put $5 million of gambling proceeds a year into employee health benefit plans.

Greenbrier workers predict the casino would be a boon to the resort, keeping rooms booked during the normally slow winter months.

Justice rescued The Greenbrier from bankruptcy after purchasing the resort from Jacksonville-based CSX Corp. for $20.1 million last month.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

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To see more of The Charleston Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wvgazette.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

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