|By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 16, 2009--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Greenbrier resort plans to offer gambling on a small scale within 10 weeks, part of a trial run before a $25 million underground casino opens in April.
Resort guests would temporarily be allowed to play slot
machines and table games at the hotel's 38Â°30
"We're starting on a small scale," said Jim Justice, who bought the historic four-star resort from CSX Corp. in May. "It will be a model for what we're going to do."
Greenbrier voters approved gambling at the White Sulphur Springs resort last year.
West Virginia Lottery spokesman Nancy Bulla said it would take the state agency four to six weeks to process The Greenbrier's gambling license application, provided the resort files the required information and paperwork. The Greenbrier hopes to open the temporary gambling facility Sept. 15.
"They have not submitted an application to be licensed as a casino," Bulla said.
Justice unveiled plans for the $25 million underground casino during a Thursday press conference.
Justice said the casino would bring about 200 additional jobs to the resort.
Justice's plans call for a lavish casino, shops, sushi bar and restaurant. It would be built under the hotel's front entrance and topped by a reflecting pool, flower garden and walkway. The casino is expected to open April 1, in time for the busy spring booking season.
"It's going to be eloquent," Justice said. "It's going to be tasteful. It just breeds excitement."
Guests would reach the casino by going through the hotel's front entrance, then down a circular "grand" staircase, flanked by waterfalls on both sides, to a mezzanine level. Farther on, guests would pass several new shops and a full-scale restaurant.
"You're going from the eloquence of the hotel, the slowness of it, to a higher energy level," Justice explained. "All this will be underground."
Also Thursday, Justice announced that he has hired Todd Fishon as vice president of casino operations, and Christina Romann and Craig Smith as interior designers on the project. Romann and Smith previously designed the interior of the Sporting Club Lodge, and The Greenbrier's theater and North Entrance corridors.
"We have a good understanding of the property, the legacy and the historical significance," said Smith, co-owner of C2 Limited Design Associates, adding that he has stayed a total of 257 days at The Greenbrier in his lifetime. "Everyone's going to be amazed at what's created."
Justice also introduced Peter McKinney, a former Greenbrier Sporting Club executive, as vice president of development. McKinney will supervise the casino project.
Fishon, who was hired away from a Tucson, Ariz., casino this week, said the underground gambling hall would be another amenity at the resort -- not the resort's focus. The casino would include several bars and possibly a stage for jazz bands.
"It's going to create such a wonderful experience for people who come here,' said Fishon, who has worked more than 20 years in the casino industry. "We will integrate five-star service throughout the casino and resort, something that is very rare within the industry."
Justice said the casino would be open to hotel guests, Greenbrier Sporting Club members and their guests. People who come to the resort for conventions and events, but don't stay overnight, also would be allowed to gamble, provided 400 or more of the hotel's rooms were booked at the time.
Justice said final schematic drawings of the casino should be finished by the end of the month, and construction would start soon after.
"We've got an all-star team now," Justice said. "We've got the real deal, and we're ready to go. We're making progress."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.
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