COWLITZ INDIAN RESERVATION — Ilani staff, Cowlitz Indian Tribe leaders, first responders and officials from nearby cities gathered Monday for the opening of Cowlitz Crossing, the new gas station and convenience store near the casino resort on the Cowlitz reservation.
The Cowlitz Drum Group welcomed guests with a performance of traditional songs, and Cowlitz Tribal Council Vice Chairman Phil Harju and Ilani President Kara Fox-LaRose spoke to the crowd of about 150 guests, which included Mohegan Gaming chief operating officer Michael Silberling and Cowlitz tribe member David Barnett, who purchased the first part of the land that would become the reservation.
Fox-LaRose detailed the development process for the gas station, and said it fit with the Cowlitz tribe’s promise that the casino project would add to the surrounding area and community. The event also featured a blessing from Cowlitz spiritual leader Tanna Engdahl, and concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome guests to the store.
The project broke ground in November, according to Ilani procurement director Taylor Morelli, who led the development of Cowlitz Crossing. The team spent the prior months refining the design to better fit the site.
“We wanted to make sure we stayed consistent with the casino,” she said.
The grand opening coincided with the second anniversary of Ilani, which opened April 24, 2017.
The Cowlitz Crossing building is about the same size as an average gas station convenience store, but it stands out from the pack with its high curving ceiling and prominent wood elements, most of which are finished with surface patterns that match the woodwork on the main casino building.
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A smiling, 8-foot-tall Sasquatch statue near the front door also tends to draw the eye — and hopefully the attention of visitors looking for a Pacific Northwest-inspired selfie opportunity.
In addition to the usual convenience store fare, Cowlitz Crossing manager Sara Englehart said the store also features local products such as ice cream sandwiches from Portland-based Ruby Jewel and coffee from Ridgefield-based Raindrop Roasters. The mini-mart also features a nitro-brew coffee machine.
The store will sell Ilani wine, a brand the casino created in partnership with Maryhill Winery, which is headquartered in Goldendale, Wash., and recently opened a tasting room at The Waterfront Vancouver.
“This will be the first time you’ll be able to purchase it in a bottle,” Englehart said.
Some of the main pumps can dispense ethanol-free gas for boats, and will employ about 21 employees, Morelli said.
During the Cowlitz Crossing presentation, Fox-LaRose also marked the occasion by announcing the next phase of Ilani development: a parking garage.
The six-story, 2,600-space garage will be located next to the Ilani building, with a covered walkway to the main entrance. Construction of the garage will begin in July, Fox-LaRose said. The project is scheduled to be completed in late summer 2020.