With a snip of the ribbon, members of the Cherokee Nation - led by Principal Chief Bill John Baker - ceremonially opened the tribe's 10th casino just outside of Grove.
While Cherokee Casino Grove officially opened on Dec. 19, the event on Tuesday, Jan. 17, celebrated the completion of the construction process which began almost 10 months to the day, since the Monday, March 28 groundbreaking.
"It's a beautiful day in the Cherokee Nation," Baker said, as he joked about the crowd gathered outside on a cold January day. "This is a beautiful building, but when I look at it, I recall that it means 175 new jobs, right here in Delaware county.
"Jobs with insurance, 401k [plans], sick leave, all the kind of things that make Cherokee lives better."
Baker, using the same phrase from the groundbreaking ceremony, once again described the completion of the casino as a "win-win" for Cherokee Nation leaders, and Grove and Delaware county officials.
"This is a good day for the Cherokee Nation, Delaware county and the city of Grove," Baker said. "This facility will bring more traffic, folks will stay longer and give them one more venue, one more reason to settle [here].
"This facility will bring extra folks and sales tax dollars up and down Main Street. There's a saying that you are either getting bigger or smaller, and the Cherokee Nation is always getting larger."
He called the completion of the casino a partnership between tribal, city and county leaders, which is bringing growth not only to the tribe, but also to northeast Oklahoma.
This is the second facility completed this year by Cherokee Nation officials within the county.
On April 1, tribal officials opened the new $14 million Sam Hider Health Center in Jay.
The 42,000-square-foot facility, located at 859 East Melton Drive, replaced an aging 26,000-square-foot structure built in 1989.
"$100 million in casino profits were part of what built the new clinic in Jay," Baker said. "Our employees are making the lives of their parents, grandparents and children better, because these precious dollars are used for services, scholarships, housing and better health care."
Harley Buzzard, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council member for District 10, agreed, saying the creation of 175 jobs helps fulfill the number one priority for his district - economic development.
"Take a look at Tom Cat Corner now, because in 10 years, you won't recognize it," Buzzard said, referring to the changes which took place in Catoosa after the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa was completed. "I'm just waiting for the next phases of it. Just think of the jobs created and the opportunities created in northern Delaware county."
"This has brought sewer out here, and infrastructure - which will be extremely attractive to other businesses," Baker said. "Towns and cities are looking for hooks to attract people.
"In New York City, 175 jobs would be no big deal. But in Delaware county, it's a big deal. This is 175 families who have been maybe traveling out [to jobs] or would have to move away from here - who get to come home.
"It's exciting times. This is perfect for Grove and for Cherokee Nation."
The ceremony, which opened with music from Cherokee Nation National Treasure Tommy Wildcat, also featured a traditional Cherokee blessing by Cherokee Spiritual Leader Crosslin Smith.
In addition to Baker and Buzzard, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskins, Jr., and Cherokee Nation Business CEO Shawn Slaton, as well as Grove Mayor Marty Follis spoke to those gathered at the ceremony.
Follis said he looks forward to seeing what develops in the area during the next five to 10 years, because of the casino.
"We have the lake out there," Follis said referring to Grand Lake o' the Cherokees. "Nobody has that. It's a great advantage."
He joked that he is also looking forward to when tribal officials "knockout a wall" and begin expanding the facility.
"I'm looking at the future, as they do other projects," Follis said. "Not just the casino, but the relationship between the city, county and the Cherokee Nation. That's what excites me.
"The casino is great. I can't wait to see what expansion it it helps bring later."
Baker responded to rumors concerning possible expansion with a laugh, saying tribal officials only make one "major announcement a day."
Grove City Manager Bill Keefer said he is excited to see what the expanded Grove Municipal Services Authority infrastructure - across Sail Boat Bridge to the new casino - might bring for the area.
GMSA officials, working with Rural Water District No. 10, worked during the past few weeks to connect sewer and water lines at points on the south side of the bridge, taking it across the lake and to Tom Cat Corner.
City officials are selling water to the rural water district, which then in turn, sells it to the casino for use. The sewer system will be owned by the city, once the final details around the construction is complete.
"The GMSA impact will take time to see what type of revenue it generates," Keefer said. "As time goes on, we'll see an increase - [especially] if they build a hotel or add on to the restaurant."
Keefer said he hopes the new casino will bring additional jobs to the community.
"It will generate traffic to the area," Keefer said. "It will be getting people into the community, and hopefully gain some interest, as they drive through town, to eat, purchase gas and to shop.
"Hopefully it will create a sustainable wealth, and [be a] good economic thing for the community as a whole."
About the casino
The new facility, built by RedStone Construction, was completed in less than a year from groundbreaking to grand opening.
The 39,000 square-foot facility, was called a "win-win-win" for northeast Oklahoma, the Grand Lake region and Cherokee Nation, by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
The casino is located in the area known locally as Tom Cat Corner, near the intersection of Highway 59 and East 250 Road, in northern Delaware county.
With a groundbreaking in March and a topping ceremony in June, and soft opening in December of 2016, the facility located north of Grove and Sail Boat Bridge on Grand Lake, adds more than 170 jobs to the area.
Modeled in part after the facility in Fort Gibson, Cherokee Casino Grove will include electronic machines, a full-service bar, a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, an outdoor patio, and a space for private and community events.
Musicians are already taking the stage in the newly christened venue for live music, now known as 1897. This weekend's offerings include The Bobby D. Band on Friday, and The Band DeLorean on Saturday. Both shows kick off at 9 p.m.
Willie Whitekiller serves as the general manager of the casino, while Randy Ligon of Grove serves as the chef of the new, yet-to-be-named sit-down restaurant.
The restaurant features a breakfast menu, lunch menu of sandwiches and burgers and a dinner menu with steaks, chicken and seafood.