Expansion marks turning point for Turning Stone

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VERONA, N.Y. -- When the Oneida Indian Nation finishes the second phase of its ambitious, two-year, $308 million expansion of Turning Stone Resort and Casino later this year, it might well have to change the name of the property.

The narrow "resort and casino" tag just just won't do it.

I recently donned a hard hat for a tour of the property, which had started out a decade ago as a simple bingo hall and blossomed over the years into a hotel-casino and golf destination.

The Lodge at Turning Stone was set to open April 16. The property's 19-story tower, still under construction, is in the background. Located 30 miles east of Syracuse in central New York state, the regional, drive-to resort had seemed adequate for a time, with its 279-room hotel housing a 120,000-square-foot casino; a 62-room inn; an RV park and campground; and two 18-hole championship golf courses.

"[But] we got to the point where that wasn't enough anymore. We were unable to satisfy the needs of our customers as far as room bookings and conventions," said Frank Riolo, Turning Stone's chief operating officer.

Following is a look at some of the new pieces to the puzzle.

The Tower

Here's where I had to hold onto my hard hat. Come mid-September, Turning Stone's existing hotel will be dwarfed by a 19-story tower that will be connected to the hotel via the winter garden atrium, the resort's new grand entrance.

Besides the 287-room tower, the entire complex will be complemented by a 98-suite luxury hotel, a full-service spa, an indoor events center and a third 18-hole championship golf course.

The tower will feature 266 guest rooms and 21 VIP suites, which, according to Riolo, "are more for the high-roller gaming person."

Seven of the suites will average 1,000 square feet, and the other 14 will offer views of the surrounding golf courses and central New York countryside.

Tower guests will have access to a third-floor fitness center, complete with swimming pool, and suite guests can dine in a private, top-floor restaurant, the Top of the Tower, which Riolo likened to the Foundation Club at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

"There will be a yearly fee [to join] this private restaurant, but if you're staying in one of those suites, you will have access to the restaurant," he added.

In addition to more hotel rooms, the expansion project includes the construction of an indoor events center targeted at attracting national entertainment acts, large conventions and indoor sports events, such as boxing and lacrosse.

Also expected to open in mid-September, the events center will feature a main arena measuring more than 29,000 square feet; nearly 6,000 square feet of meetings and conference space located in three rooms off the event floor; and seven boardroom-style meetings rooms, each measuring up to 900 square feet.

Theater-style seats on adjustable platforms will allow for a variety of event-floor configurations for concerts, trade shows and expos; concerts, for example, will be able to hold upwards of 5,000 people.

Some of the structure's bells and whistles will be an in-house public address system for the event floor and individual meetings rooms as well as in-house audiovisual services, including teleconferencing, videoconferencing and high-speed Internet and telecommunications ports.

The events center will be connected by escalators to the two-story winter garden atrium.

Waterfalls; skylights; eight types of trees, including 22-foot-tall palm trees; other plants, such as bamboo, ferns, vines and ornamental grasses; and seasonal flowers will set the tone for the 37,000-square-foot atrium, set to debut with the hotel tower.

The atrium will include a 375-seat buffet restaurant, a 150-seat themed restaurant and a cappuccino and pastry shop.

The Lodge at Turning Stone was set to open April 16. The property's 19-story tower, still under construction, is in the background.The Lodge

Although focused on expanding Turning Stone's meetings and conventions business, officials also were looking to grow leisure business.

"We wanted to reach out to the New York City market and into other [nearby] states," Riolo said. "We want to make this a place where people can come for two or three days."

The Lodge at Turning Stone should fit the bill.

The upscale, 98-suite property, which was set to open April 16, is made of wood and stone, recalling a traditional Adirondack lodge, and features an expansive great terrace and great lawn as well as a nearby scenic lake.

Inside, the building's great room, dominated by a massive stone fireplace, boasts cherry wood floors and a frosted-glass wall, illuminated from within, that is decorated with art objects.

Suites are differentiated by their size as well as by the view they offer.

Standard suites, which are anything but what their name implies, feature 10-foot-high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.

Corner suites also offer fireplaces, plasma TVs and private balconies or decks with their own hot tubs.

On the lodge's top floor is the 2,900-square-foot Presidential suite, which features three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, two fireplaces and an entertainment center with a home theater system.

It also has a full kitchen, butler service and a master bedroom with its own minispa.

The Presidential Suite is priced at $3,000 per night, while the standard and corner suites run $250 per night and $450 per night, respectively.

"We took all the five-diamond and five-star standards and built this place around them," said Robert McEleney, vice president of hospitality.

The Spa and golf courses

That includes the Spa at Turning Stone, a 27,000-square-foot facility connected to the lodge via a covered walkway.

Scheduled to open by the end of the year, the spa will feature various treatments and treatment rooms as well as a grotto pool with indoor and outdoor components.

The lodge also overlooks Kaluhyat and Shenendoah, the resort's two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones and Rick Smith, respectively.

Atunyote, a third championship course, designed by Tom Fazio, is under construction and will open July 21.

With all the new offerings, the resort will be featuring at least half a dozen commissionable travel packages, including spa, golf and entertainment-oriented plans, Riolo said.

For more information, call (800) 771-7711 or log onto www.turning-stone.com.

To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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