Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

$10 million development just part of Yurok Tribe's vision for town

Hotel options just got a whole lot classier in Klamath.

On Tuesday, the Yurok Tribe opened the doors of its Redwood Hotel Casino, billed as the only hotel casino property in Redwood National and State Parks, and even with a soft opening, the Holiday Inn Express hotel was nearly sold out on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The luxurious 60-room hotel, adorned in themes inspired by the Klamath River and Yurok culture, booked at least 20 rooms on the first night it was open, including guests from Germany, Korea and Canada.

"We are excited to bring new, comfortable lodging to the Klamath area," said Tribal Chairman Thomas O'Rourke Sr. in a press release. "Dozens of new jobs are now in place, and when the casino opens its doors, nearly 100 more new jobs will be created."

The up to 125-slot machine casino and 50-seat Abalone Bar and Grill are still under construction but the tribe expects to open the facilities this summer.

"We're really excited about the potential opportunity to capture some of that market of people

coming to the park and to the area," said Deana Scott, chief marketing and development officer for the Yurok Tribe.

The majority of the employees at the hotel are Yurok tribal members or of Native American descent, which was a big priority for the tribe, Scott said, adding, "It's wonderful to see for the tribe and for the community."

Hotel accommodations

Throughout the hotel runs a theme of the Klamath River, its salmon and wildlife and the Yurok culture that has been integral to region since time immemorial.

"The idea was to represent the local Yurok culture and the beauty of the area," Scott said. "The designs throughout the property have been created using historic photos and local icons."

All of the artwork and photography on display in rooms and throughout the hotel was created by Yurok tribal artists or photographers.

"The attention to the details has made this a nicer facility than most places you see on the North Coast," said Susan Masten, vice-chair of the Yurok Tribal Council.

The hotel features an indoor swimming pool equipped with a handicap pool-lift, a fully-equipped fitness center and a conference room for banquets and events.

The entire hotel casino property is non-smoking, which Scott said is a growing trend for niche properties in the casino industry.

"The fact that we're non-smoking has been a big plus" with the guests that have visited so far, Scott said.

Each room in Redwood Hotel comes with a refrigerator, microwave, flat-screen television and complimentary wi-fi. The rate for a standard king is $154 per night, but rates will vary based on the day and time of year.

All lodging includes a full hot breakfast featuring signature cinnamon rolls that have already proven to be quite popular, Scott said.

The Abalone Bar and Grill will feature a 50-seat dining area, many dishes featuring Klamath River chinook salmon when in season, an abalone special and an outdoor patio with seating under umbrellas and couches next to fireplaces, perfect for "morning coffee or an afternoon cocktail," Scott said.

One part of a bigger vision

Since the 1964 Christmas Flood wiped out the once-bustling town of Klamath, there has been very little economic growth in the town, said vice-chair Masten, but the tribe's projects, including the hotel, are intended to "revitalize the town of Klamath."

Masten said the Redwood Hotel Casino is just one component of the tribe's larger vision for the town of Klamath, creating a "win-win" for the whole community.

A visitor center that will "showcase our culture and traditions and provide information about things to do in the area" and an amphitheater are currently under construction, Masten said. The tribe will also break ground on a new justice center and will redevelop existing retail space as part of a larger retail development project.

Along with the Redwood Hotel, another completed component of the tribe's plan is the Yurok Culture and Knowledge Park, which gives visitors the opportunity to look at examples of the architecture of traditional Yurok homes and sweathouses and the different plants and wildlife that are found in the area.

"We wanted to create this vision for the townsite that lets you know that you're in Yurok country," Masten said.

A hotel was a necessary component for the vision the tribe has for visitors in order to "make sure that visitors feel welcome in this place that we live," Masten said.

While some have been critical of another casino opening in Del Norte County, Masten said that the casino is a small component of the tribe's plans for Klamath and that it will be the "smallest casino in the state of California.

"We have all of these other projects that we want to do that are more important or just as important as the casino," Masten said. "The experience is different from other tribes where the casino is what drove them first and then they diversified from there."

When considered as a whole, the projects are expected to draw tourism dollars not just from California or the region but from across the country and beyond.

"We're talking about new dollars that can be spread throughout our community," Scott said, adding that the response from the community of Klamath has been very positive.

"It's been really fun to see how excited people are about the revitalization of Klamath and this part of the county," Scott said.

Choice of the Yurok people

Masten noted that the projects coming to fruition this year were chosen in a referendum by Yurok tribal members.

"The Yurok people chose to do this," Masten said.

The Redwood Hotel Casino was built using about $10 million of $27.5 million in settlement funds that the Yurok Tribe received through a class action lawsuit against the federal government that dealt with mismanagement of the tribe's trust lands and trust assets by the federal government. The Yurok Tribe currently has 3,500 acres of trust lands. The remaining $17.5 million dollars was distributed to tribal members

In a February 2013 referendum, tribal members handily approved the plan to use $10 million for a hotel casino instead of distributing the full $27.5 million to tribal members.

"We will own it outright, which gives us an edge on being able to be successful," O'Rourke said in 2013 when the referendum was first proposed. "The revenues generated by the hotel-resort-casino will be used to address the needs of the people."

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