Casinos Driving Tulsa Convention Appeal

Along with the redevelopment of its downtown, Tulsa's casinos are helping to boost convention business and tourism. Expansion and construction are surging for hotels and casinos, including the Creek Nation's $365 million expansion and rebranding of its River Spirit Casino into a Margaritaville resort.

Convention business and tourism are picking up in Tulsa. Redevelopment of the downtown area is one factor, and the other is the area’s casinos, where new construction and expansion is occurring or planned.

For example, the Creek Nation is investing $365 million to expand and rebrand its River Spirit Casino into a Margaritaville resort. The complex will feature a 27-story, 483-room hotel, a themed casino, a Margaritaville restaurant overlooking the Arkansas River, Land Shark Landing pool bar, Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a 3,000-seat entertainment venue and a new entrance. Most of the construction will be completed by September 2016.

The Cherokee Nation’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa is undergoing a $6.9 million, three-phase upgrade, including an upgraded lobby, a new luxury spa and a 16,000 square foot pool. In addition, last year Cherokee Nation Business announced it leased nearby property to commercial real estate developer Woodmont Outlets for an $80 million upscale retail development, including up to 100 retailers in more than 300,000 square feet, scheduled to open late next year. CNB also plans to build an entertainment and dining zone called the District, connecting the upscale shops directly to the casino.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said, “Casinos offer just what a lot of out-of-town meeting planners are looking for. They have nice rooms, good food and a lot of other attractions. At the Hard Rock, for instance, you can eat, listen to music, play golf or go out on the casino floor. These establishments are something we have that a lot of other cities don’t. They really are helping bring in a lot of business.”

The surge in convention business also is resulting in an increase in new hotels and motels, as well as restaurant chains, movie theaters and retail stores. Currently Tulsa has a total of 1,650 rooms downtown so it can accommodate larger groups. Brittany Sawyer, director of the Tulsa Hotel-Motel Association, noted, “At the end of last year, I counted 27 new hotels in the market or planned to be open by 2016, and this year even more have been announced.”

Added James Cunningham, general manager for the Hyatt Hotel, “We seem to be in a growth cycle right now that I think will last a few more years. We were in a recession from 2009 to 2013, so developers are trying to catch up with demand. The trick will be to do that and keep everything in balance, to not overshoot on the supply side.” Cunningham said Tulsa competes with Dallas, Fort Worth, Wichita and Albuquerque for convention business. “If we add some more rooms, we could begin competing with places such as Orlando and Las Vegas,” he said.