By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — The inside of Seneca Niagara Casino will soon have a new look and feel thanks to a multi-million renovation effort.
Leaders from the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Seneca Gaming Corp. have announced plans to invest $26 million in a redesign of the main casino floor and an upgrade to the building's air quality systems.
The overall improvements will also involve a $2.9 million "garden makeover" at Seneca Square, the area formerly known as E. Dent Lackey Plaza which is located outside the casino's main entrance between Third and Fourth streets.
Seneca leaders and gaming officials said they're hoping the project will improve not only the look, but also the feel of the now decade-old gaming facility.
"It's time to breath new life in the place where it all started," said Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder Sr.
The project represents the first major renovation inside the casino since the building's 2002 transformation from the old Niagara Falls Civic and Convention Center into a Class III gaming facility. The latest renovation effort is expected to create a total of 300 construction jobs, with 120 workers on site during peak times.
The main component focuses on a redesign of the layout of the casino's 88,000-square-foot main gaming floor, an area roughly equivalent to two acres or two football fields.
The work will not involve installation of new gaming machines as much as it will reconfiguration of the ones already located on the gaming floor. Those machines will be re-installed with new bases and chairs as part of the project.
The biggest change gaming floor change will be removal of Club 101, the combination bar and entertainment stage currently located at the center of the casino.
Under the new plans, the casino's new main bar and entertainment area will be located in the southwest corner of the non-smoking section. The area will feature a live entertainment stage, dance floor, lounge seats, circular bar with 20 tabletop video gaming units and a 40-by-20 feet, high-definition, jumbo video screen.
The revamped gaming floor will also feature new carpeting and a "central gaming floor path" from the hotel to the Fourth Street entrance. In addition, the west entrance to the casino will be widened to "create an open and more welcoming experience" and a new Keno bar will be added at the entrance to the recently renovated Thunder Falls buffet.
A significant improvement that won't be as immediately visible to visitors involves $6 million in upgrades to the existing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. New air handling units and ductwork are being installed, with the new air supply units and a roof-mounted exhaust system helping to circulate more fresh air from the outside of the building, according to casino representatives.
"We plan to give our guests an entirely new gaming experience," Snyder said.
The Seneca Square upgrades are being billed as a separate project all their own. Seneca and gaming corporation officials said it will involve gardening and landscaping work carrying the "Seneca theme," added benches and signs and enhancements along the pedestrian bridge across from the casino entrance between Fourth and Third streets.
"This will be a beautiful area for people to walk back and forth and we think it will enliven the community," said Cathy Walker, president and CEO of the gaming corporation. "We think this will become a hub. We know this will be a place where many people will want to take pictures because it's going to be such a wonderful experience."
Following Tuesday's formal press conference, Snyder said he's relieved - and so are many other members of the nation and employees of the gaming corporation - to be able to talk about the long-standing casino cash dispute with the state in the past tense.
Snyder said there are no immediate plans to expand the nation's gaming operations in the Falls beyond the current boundaries of the casino and hotel. He did not rule out the possibility at some point in the future, but said those decisions will be made by Seneca leaders and gaming corporation officials after careful review.
With a new agreement in place granting the nation an extension of its exclusive rights to gaming operations in the area, Snyder pledged: "We are here in Western New York. We are here to stay."