With tribal dances, mid-day fireworks and the award of thousands of dollars to local nonprofits, the new owners of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem strived to show their
commitment to the city with a grand opening celebration Oct. 10.
Earlier this year, Wind Creek Hospitality bought the Bethlehem casino from Las Vegas Sands Corp. for $1.3 billion and since then has rebranded the site with its name throughout the property, which includes the casino, outlet mall, hotel, and event center. In addition, the sale included several vacant buildings the company plans to redevelop.
Jay Dorris, Wind Creek president and CEO, said they are working with the architectural and engineering teams for the hotel expansion and convention space they want to add but have no firm date on starting construction. Wind Creek has also not filed any plans with the city, yet, he said.
Wind Creek a privately held affiliate of the Porch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, wants to expand the property to include a 300-room hotel adjacent to the casino. In addition, it plans to renovate the vacant Machine Shop No. 2 building into a new hotel and an adventure/water park, in addition to a spa and fitness center with a pool and meeting space. The Machine Shop project would take longer, Dorris said.
The new hotel adjacent to the casino would also include convention center space, he said.
Wind Creek aims to preserve what makes the property a special part of the Bethlehem community while introducing the Wind Creek brand, Dorris said.
“This has been a long journey for this team,” said Brian Carr, executive vice president and general manager at Wind Creek.
With about 2,500 employees at Wind Creek’s Bethlehem resort, the new owners will build on the success and promote growth of South Side Bethlehem and the valley, Carr said.
Reflecting on the 2009 opening of the Bethlehem casino, Sen. Lisa Boscolla said, “We overcame a lot of obstacles. This site is a prime example of the anchors casinos have become.”
At the time, many questioned the need for building a large-scale casino in Bethlehem, but as several officials noted at the grand opening of the re-branded site, the casino has generated economic growth for the city.
While some of the surrounding vacant properties have remained untouched, the casino’s arrival led to the development of the nearby ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, the PBS-39 building, the Visitor’s Center and the Hoover Mason Trestle, an elevated walkway that brings people in close proximity to the iconic blast furnaces at the former Bethlehem Steel site.
Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez said he had cast the deciding vote to approve the casino when he served as a city councilman.
“If we didn’t have Sands make the investment, we wouldn’t have the Hoover Mason Trestle and PBS,” Donchez said.
Both Dorris and Tribal Chair Stephanie Bryan emphasized their intention to rejuvenate and invest in the property and their commitment to Bethlehem.
“We have shared vision and shared values,” Bryan said. “We are looking at additional employment opportunities in Bethlehem. We are committed to doing more. We are committed to strengthening the great businesses that are already here.”
Wind Creek also announced that the local nonprofit organization Via of the Lehigh Valley won the $25,000 Charity Giving Contest. In addition, Wind Creek gave $10,000 each to all the other nine nonprofits who competed for the funds.