The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort and Encompass Project

From blueprints and sub-zero temps to hanging local art and hand selecting linens:

The Challenge

Just how do you expand a 13 year old casino with a separate bingo hall into a sophisticated gaming space with a new luxury four star hotel? How do you manage a 30,000 square foot remodel reflected an updated, casual elegance, which included a resort with 150 hotel suites, a full-service spa, gym, pool, and a new buffet? How do you direct each aspect of transforming a Tribal gaming property in the “middle of nowhere” that is refined for a cosmopolitan market, yet comfortable for local clientele? How do you successfully navigate the issues between subcontractors, labor unions, and regulatory bodies in a way that never slows down the construction or causes issues for the Tribe?

This is the story of the partnership between Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Encompass Develop, Design & Construct, LLC.

History of Project

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s initial intention was to bring a Construction mohawk-case-study-1Manager on board to help them construct the project. Within just a couple of meetings, they realized that Encompass was much more than a Construction Manager. According to the Tribe’s General Counsel, Michele Mitchell, “What Encompass brought to the table was their experience in overseeing a project of this size from start to finish.”

According to Mitchell, the Tribe approached this project differently after a previous smaller expansion with another construction management group went over budget and over schedule. “Part of the problem was that the casino group, including the previous general manager, had no experience in overseeing construction, and our previous owner’s representative didn’t appear to take ownership of the project, and was not held accountable.”

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This change in approach meant that Encompass would directly report to the Tribal Council, and the Council would keep control of every aspect of the project. According to Ron James, Senior VP of Field Operations, who was the on-site liaison for the duration of the project, what that meant was once a week meetings with the Council to discuss bids, financials and schedules, as well as interacting daily with casino staff. Mitchell adds, “Following these meetings, at the end of the day, expectations were known and met by all … in addition, Ron’s expertise was instrumental in correcting issues that previous expansions had not even identified as problems.”

Common to most construction projects, there was a directive to use Tribal craftsmen, union labor and local community resources; the challenge, according to James, was finding the very best within the small, surrounding population. It was imperative to use the Tribe’s iron workers: Mohawks have a long and proud legacy of having worked on nearly every skyscraper and bridge in New York City for over a century.

“From Paper to Implementation”: The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Expansion Case Study

The following information was contributed by Pat Bassney, CEO/GM, Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, and John Stewart, Owner/President at Encompass Develop, Design & Construct, LLC.

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Project Wish List

Simply put, the vision of the Tribe was to expand their gaming facility into a full resort. This included:

  1. Expanding the casino area for additional revenue.
  2. Constructing a new hotel to expand the client base.
  3. Relocating the Bingo Enterprise for all gaming areas to be in the same location.
  4. Creating a fresh look for the entire facility.
  5. Updating and expanding food venues for expanded service.
  6. Creating more Tribal employment.
  7. Increasing revenue to enhance Tribal services.
  8. Keeping current business intact while construction happening.
  9. Developing and designing a facility that would be refined for the cosmopolitan market of Montreal, yet comfortable for local clientele.

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Moving Forward

According to Stewart, “The Tribe’s initial intention was to bring a Construction Manager on board to help them construct the project. Within just a couple of meetings, they realized that Encompass was much more than a Construction Manager. We had the capability to truly become a partner.

“We showed them how we could walk beside them on the project and be an extension of their staff to manage the entire project, manage the target budget by assisting them in development of the Return on Investment, working with potential lenders, and giving a comfort level when we guaranteed the project budget and schedules.”

Partnership Results aka “the Win”

  1. While maintaining the original budget and delivering early in many areas, Encompass exceeded the results that the Tribe expected.
  2. More than 100 Tribal construction jobs were created.
  3. Encompass assisted in rewriting the Tribal preference policy and maintained the new policy throughout the project.
  4. There was a high level of community involvement, including sourcing local artisans for hotel artwork.
  5. Encompass was able to troubleshoot some of the unanticipated deficiencies when moving from paper to actual implementation.
  6. The 30,000 square foot remodel reflected an updated, casual elegance, which included a resort with 150 hotel suites, with a full-service spa, gym and pool, and a new buffet.
  7. Encompass was able to accommodate the required union trades, while maintaining the budget.
  8. Encompass created an 11 area phasing plan that allowed slot counts to remain as original. This also included putting up “finished” walls so that the casino did not look and feel like a construction zone from the interior. Work was done in interior spaces from 2 AM to noon in order to reduce impact on the guests.
  9. The gaming floor expanded to 1,800 slot games and 30 tables.

Unexpected Benefits

  1. The Tribe experienced how a project can be produced with no cost or schedule overruns. They had not experienced this in the past.
  2. The Tribe enjoyed the experience and is planning future expansion with Encompass as a partner.
  3. The Tribe found Encompass to be diligent in asking questions to strategize programming.
  4. Per Pat Bassney, “John and Encompass are always looking at the return on investment (ROI) and alternatives to design and construction to ensure value for the owner.”
  5. Encompass continued to be available to assist in difficulties experienced with suppliers and/or warranty items.
  6. Growth of the facility created a lively feel.
  7. There is a great deal of local pride in the facility.
  8. This project created local employment during construction and after.

“I found them to be professional, above board, and, as a result, developed a relationship with the Tribal council, management and myself, where we were able to trust their judgment.
“Finally, Encompass was, from day one, sensitive to the sovereignty of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. There were several issues that they worked closely with us to resolve, from sales tax to regulatory matters regarding the state right of way.” Michele Mitchell, General Counsel, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe

Description of Existing Property

Located in New York’s North Country, the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino is one of two gaming enterprises under the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. The Saint Regis Mohawk, or Akwesasne, are presently situated on over 30,000 acres of Tribal land, extending from New York into Quebec and Ontario.

The Tribe’s gaming enterprises are just two of over 120 tribally-registered businesses, and one of the largest employers, not only of the local community, but of Northern New York as a whole. All revenue generated is generously donated back into the community at large. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribal culture adds a richness and diversity to Northern New York with their history and current influence.