Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Hotel, set among the natural splendors of North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, has been a mainstay of entertainment in the Southeastern U.S. since 1997. Now, following a dramatic five-year renovation, the resort may truly be called world-class.
Caesars Entertainment and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lavished $650 million on the multi-phase upgrade, which added more than 8,300 square feet of retail space, a 10,000-square-foot VIP lounge, a 3,001-seat event center, the 18,000-square-foot Mandara Spa, and the new 21-story Creek Tower hotel. The expansion doubled the casino floor to an impressive 360,000 square feet, with 4,000 slots and 100 table games.
Working with Cuningham Group Architecture, designers created an aesthetic that celebrates the grandeur of the resort’s environment along with the rich history of the seven clans of the Eastern Band. The mighty rotunda entrance includes soaring tree-like elements that come to life with light and sound for a remarkable sensory experience. Eight 60-foot tall trees are set with more than 30,000 colored, digitally programmed LED lights that flicker in vivid, ever-changing patterns. Dual 68-foot interior waterfalls cascade from ceiling to floor. An immense floating spiral staircase seems to defy gravity. And a giant wrap-around video screen tells the story of the Cherokee in a dazzling sound-and-light show.
On the gaming floor, designers crafted a quartet of distinct nature-themed zones to usher guests through the casino. Together they are meant to suggest a walk from the foothills into the mountains and upward, with ever-changing geographic features, bright foliage and shifting light.
The “Earth Water” section, with finishes that evoke stratified layers of earth, features 460 new electronic games plus a full bar, lounge and 560-seat Chefs Stage Buffet. “River Valley” winds into a more sophisticated gaming area with the VIP Lounge, high-limit area and the Le Fu Men Asian gaming area. The retail concourse in this zone is highlighted by threads of glass lights that recall mountain dew on a spider web.
“Woodland Moon” has a “cabin-in-the-woods” feel, says the architect, with rustic finishes and elements that suggest dappled light filtering through a canopy of trees. And “Mountain Breeze” is distinguished by strong vertical elements and heavy materials, as well as design features that call to mind swaying trees, campfires and a mountaintop. The event center is located at the pinnacle, befitting its destination status.
The natural theme, by turns subtle and spectacular, continues at the new 21-story Creek Tower, an upscale 420,000-square-foot hotel. The lobby incorporates architectural elements such as native river cane, stonework and rich woodwork. Ceiling elements and columns are “symbolic of tree trunks,” says the architect. “A cozy fire lounge is nestled in the heart of the lobby, while the Lobby Café features a sculptural fixture reminiscent of a bonfire with ‘flame and smoke’ billowing up” to the second level check-in. New restaurants include Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and the Brio Tuscan Grill.
The new Harrah’s Cherokee debuted to the public in March 2013. The Great Smokies resort, a popular regional destination, is now ready to welcome the world.
Owner: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Operators: Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise/Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Architecture and Interior Design: Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.
General Contractors (Casino Expansion, Hotel): Turner Construction Co., Yates/Rentenbach