Five months after its tribal backers won final federal approval to move ahead, the largest casino resort in the Bay Area is starting to take shape on the northwest edge of Rohnert Park.
The project, launched by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is still in its early stages but has already invigorated union construction workers battered by the long economic slump in the North Bay.
So far, at least 150 union workers have found jobs on the $825 million project. It is expected to create 750 construction-related jobs while it is built over the next year.
The tribe's vision, which was on hold for close to a decade as controversy, lawsuits, negotiations and bureaucracy strung together the years, is now taking form in the contours of concrete and the geometry of steel girders rising from the 66-acre building site.
The curving roof line of the 332,500-square-foot casino building has been shaped. A concrete slab covers channels below the floor, which have been laid with pipes to transport coins from 3,000 slot machines that will be installed. And a parking garage big enough for 5,511 vehicles is rising.
It is a heady time for the 1,300-member tribe, which never doubted it would arrive, said its chairman, Greg Sarris, who led the effort resulting in the Graton Rancheria's 2000 federal recognition.
"We go, we take one step at a time," Sarris said. "It was never a dream for us; it was a reality."
Labor leaders backed the project against fierce opposition from critics worried about the spread of gambling, the casino's impact on water supplies and its addition of thousands more vehicles on local roads.
That support came, in large part, because of agreements that Sarris negotiated with the tribe's financial backer, Station Casinos of Las Vegas, to ensure local union workers would build it.
Those agreements are paying off now, they say. After a recession that wiped out half of union construction jobs in the North Bay, it is union labor, putting in six or sometimes seven days a week, that is moving dirt, pouring concrete, laying conduit, framing walls, paving the parking lot.
"It's been fantastic," said Denise Soza of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551, who dispatches workers to the project site.
Last week, she sent 24 electricians -- from apprentices earning $19.20 an hour and up to journeymen earning $46 an hour -- from the IBEW hall to the casino job, up from five a month ago.
"It gives me a sense of security," said apprentice electrician Andrew Geoffrion of Petaluma, who started working on the project in September and expects his job to last a year.
"I can save up some money for when the time comes that I'm off of work. I'll have a bank account," said Geoffrion, 23, who earns $31.20 an hour.
The number of workers varies daily, but 85 to 95 percent of them are members of North Bay union halls, representing cement masons, carpenters, laborers, electricians, operating engineers and sheet metal workers, according to union officials and Station Casinos.
Darius Anderson, part of an investment group that purchased The Press Democrat last month, is a lobbyist for Station Casinos, although he said he is no longer involved in the Rohnert Park project. He was a consultant to the tribe, but no longer serves in that role, according to both Anderson and the tribe.