The $200 million Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino development is rising rapidly from the desert, just a hop west across the I-10 freeway from Chandler.
It will feature 242 rooms and suites, a 100,000-square-foot casino, a ballroom, meeting rooms, fitness center, business center, eight restaurants, five lounges and "Chandler's first nightclub," said Arlene Alleman, director of marketing for the Gila River Indian Community.
The development is on Gila River property, but it has a Chandler address.
That means Chandler won't collect any sales or bed taxes, but the city will gain national and international attention from the hotel guests and gamers expected to try out the new travel destination, Alleman said.
That could be a big boost, rather than a threat, to Chandler businesses, enhancing the city's reputation as a prime tourism destination, said James Smith, Chandler economic development specialist.
"We hope it brings new people to the East Valley who otherwise wouldn't come here," Smith said. "And that they will spill over into Chandler shops, restaurants and hotels."
Smith isn't concerned that Wild Horse Pass will steal potential guests of four new Chandler hotels almost ready to open just a few miles northeast of the Gila River property.
"Travel in general is down, so there is a concern about filling hotel rooms," Smith said. But for the new Chandler hotels, "the target is the business traveler coming to do business along Price Road."
The Indian community also is focusing on a different demographic, so the new hotel and casino won't be stealing customers from the tribe's existing properties.
The nightclub and other hotel amenities are designed to attract more of the 21- to 35-year-old crowd than the older guests typical of the Gila River's other casinos and even the posh Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, Alleman said.
"We're trying to go after the younger, leisure travel demographic," she said.
The nightclub is the centerpiece of that effort. Gila River commissioned the company that designed the nightclub at the Wynn in Las Vegas to fashion the Wild Horse Pass version, she said.
But while its focus and atmosphere will be younger and hipper, the hotel, meeting space, casino and eateries will be only a smidge less luxurious than the four-diamond Sheraton, said John Straus, the property's general manager.
It will have some decidedly "wow" features, including a 55-foot-high rotunda entry with an 8,000-pound chandelier that hangs above a two-ton horse sculpture, Straus said.
The chandelier will have no light bulbs, just reflecting the natural light, he said.
The casino also will feature the first Don Shula restaurant west of Texas, the only nonsmoking slots room in Arizona, and the only Arizona casino to feature a multistory enclosed parking garage, he said.
Besides the no-smoking room housing 65 of the casino's 1,002 slot machines, the Don Shula steakhouse, a Ling and Louie's restaurant and the nightclub will be smoke-free, he said.
The casino also includes a state-of-the-art, multistory showroom, and it has booked some A-list acts, including Jay Leno, LeAnn Rimes, Boyz II Men and Bobby Vinton, Straus said.
Vinton ensures that even though the target market is younger, the place offers a draw for all-age visitors, Alleman said.
Gila River spent more than $1 million just on the sound and light systems for the showroom, she said.
About 900 people are working on the property to get it ready for an Oct. 31 debut, Straus said. When it's up and running, the hotel and casino will employ about 800, he said.
Despite scheduling a hotel debut in the midst of an economic downturn, Straus said he's already booked a bunch of business, with some rooms reserved as far into the future as 2011.
"We're expecting to do well," he said. "We're slowly filling up our first few months."