A Natural Connection at Talking Stick Resort

Arizona’s highly-anticipated new $440 million casino first opened its doors in April this year, attracting a large crowd and honoring the tribe backing the property. Casino Arizona’s Talking Stick Resort is owned by the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community and replaces a temporary facility on its site. The resort now completes and complements Casino Arizona’s other property at Salt River and the nearby Talking Stick Golf Club near Scottsdale, Ariz.

Construction for the new resort began in 2007 and culminated in a beautiful property boasting almost 500 guest rooms, a 240,000-foot gaming floor with 800 slot machines, poker and blackjack, over 50,000 square feet of conference space including a 24,000-square foot ballroom, a spa on the 14th floor, eight restaurants and 10 lounges. The hotel’s rooftop restaurant provides a one-of-a-kind dining experience with views of Scottsdale, Camelback Mountain and the undeveloped desert. The property’s hotel opened with half the rooms completed, with the rest joining in July.

Responsible for designing the Talking Stick was Salt Lake City, Utah-based FFKR Architects. “In the case of Talking Stick Resort, developing our design and vision was a collaborative effort between FFKR and the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community Design Committee,” explained Kevin Mass, principal at FFKR. “The Salt River Pima and Maricopa tribes are known as the River People, and their ancestry is tied to the Sonoran Desert where they have lived for centuries. Water, light, and the Sonoran Desert color palette became our sources of inspiration. The overall vision was to express a design that honored the history of the River People.”

It was very important for FFKR to reflect the culture of the community in the casino’s design. One of the early decisions in the design process for the permanent structure from the tribal council was that the design should incorporate natural materials used honestly and simply rather than creating a “themed” experience for guests. “By using cultural and historical motifs, FFKR’s design is able to educate and inform the public about two tribes (Pima and Maricopa),” Mass said. “This is the latest development for the gaming enterprise and reflects a state-of-the-art conference–resort property within the important cultural context of the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community. You can see and feel the culture virtually everywhere you look in the property. To the community members, this is their ‘living room’ and it’s important that it speaks to who and what the community represents.”

The hotel will be managed by the enterprise rather than a national brand. As a result, the operator had complete control in the development of the amenities and finishes. “The sandwich house, an early style of home on the reservation, inspired the architectural finishes in the hotel rooms,” Mass said. “Tile, carpet, and wall covering selections were used to honor the local architectural heritage.”

It was also very important to the enterprise that the hotel rooms appeal to the seasoned business traveler—from above-counter plugs for computers, phones and personal electronic devices, to rain shower heads and expansive bathrooms, to complimentary bottled water, the hotel was designed with the guest experience in mind.

For the tribe, gaming is a critical opportunity. The revenue from the gaming enterprise provides services to tribal members as well as funds for community projects such as education, health care, elder care and child care. The Talking Stick Resort employs thousands of people, many who are members of the tribe. The resort also serves as a connection for the area’s tribes and community members.

Schedule and budget are always a major challenge for completing ambitious projects such as the Talking Stick. But in this case, as Mass explains, “FFKR had the advantage of working with an experienced group of owners and operators. Designers, contractors, operators and inspectors all worked together to make the most of our limited time and resources. FFKR’s longstanding relationship with the community also helped when challenges arose.”

Protecting the environment is very important to the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community. Therefore, eco-friendly elements were a must when building the new property, a practice FFKR also believes in. “We believe that a tenet of good design is always to design with nature in mind,” Mass noted. “This project uses deep recesses for windows, large overhangs and shade trellises to reduce the cooling loads. The selections for products used were made with consideration toward the post-consumer content, for example, a high percentage of recycled products in the carpet and terrazzo.”

Mass also explained that technology plays a part in improving the environment of the site. “Parking is a premium, and Arizona is prone to rain storms that can drop a large amount of water in a short time. For this project, FFKR incorporated underground water retention tanks that collect and purify the surface water before allowing it to percolate into the ground water system. Again, this attention reflects the culture of our client.”
For FFKR, some of the most gratifying moments were near completion of the property when tribal members got a sneak peek at their new gaming facility. “The comments we’ve heard have been so kind and appreciative,” Moss said. “That is a very good feeling.”

Owner: Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community
Operator: Casino Arizona
Architect: FFKR Architects
Interior Designer: FFKR Architects
Contractor: Chanen Construction Co.
Structural Engineer: Calder-Richards Engineering
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: WSP Flack and Kurtz