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A union of earth, water and sky

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Oct. 6, 2002
CHOCTAW The Golden Moon Hotel and Casino at the Pearl River Resort here is a stunning achievement. But, first, before I offer a few additional comments today on the grand opening of the $177 million jewel, a technical correction from my Saturday story.
From the ground, the triangular panels that encircle the moon that sits atop the hotel look like they're made of glass and steel. And, a closeup view reveals that the structure does have glass windows framed in steel.
But the triangular sheets actually hang just outside the windows, stretched tightly. You can see this effect up close from the Golden Moon's 26th floor.
The triangles are actually made of fabric that is specially treated to resist weathering. Jim Angus, vice president of construction operations for the Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise, refers to them as "diapers." And I am not one to dispute his description.
These triangular sheets are not made of glass and steel, as I incorrectly reported. But they do make for a remarkable visual.
The sweeping architecture of the Golden Moon illustrates the connection between earth, water and sky that marks this project of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Architect Sergio Bakas of the Miami-based firm Arquitectonica drew a masterpiece that is both visually appealing and functional.
Philadelphia-based W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Company, Mississippi's largest construction company as ranked by Engineering News Record and the Mississippi Business Journal, translated the drawings into reality.
And yet, as good as it may be, the completion and grand opening of the Golden Moon is just the latest step on an amazing highway of progress for a tribe whose members were once on the verge of hopelessness. The tribe operates 19 other businesses and employed a total of 14,817 people at last count.
Here are some other "gee whiz" facts that may help you win a bet tomorrow morning in the office:
The tribe's annual payroll is $192.1 million;
The tribe buys $114.2 million worth of goods from Mississippi vendors, from food and beer to construction services;
The tribe generates $332.1 million in indirect economic activity;
The tribe's economic impact includes $9.5 million in annual tax revenues to Mississippi;
The tribe's employees not all of them Choctaw Indians pay $9.2 million in state income taxes.
On July 1, 1994, which seems like a lifetime ago, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians launched its first gaming operation, the Silver Star Resort and Casino. It was started under the authority of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and is the largest and most profitable Choctaw tribal enterprise to date.
Another part of the growing Choctaw community resort complex is the Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, a 36-hole championship golf course designed by architect Tom Fazio and professional golfer Jerry Pate.
The addition of the Choctaw Geo Imaging enterprise and the tribe's controversial entry into the automobile dealership business in 2001 preceded the opening of Geyser Falls Water Park this summer.
Chief Phillip Martin chuckles when he recalls that his judgment was questioned a decade ago as the tribe began to build the Silver Star on reservation land along Highway 16 just west of Philadelphia. Some said the same when he developed the championship Dancing Rabbit golf course. And when he developed a Hospitality Institute. And a plastic molding enterprise that still makes the knives and forks you use at McDonald's restaurants all over the world. And when he launched a printing and direct mail enterprise. And when the tribe built a shopping center.
Some scoff when he talks about building a freshwater snorkeling project and a huge lake named after another chief, Pushmataha. Or a music hall of fame.
Those naysayers were probably startled when the Silver Star opened and people came and starting dropping billions of dollars down the slots and at gaming tables.
Now, with the opening of the Golden Moon, Martin has faced some criticism again, even as he's thinking about what he calls creating a future "for the unborn," the members of his tribe whose feet have not yet even touched the earth he is so skillfully cultivating for them.
Martin said he believes government works best when it provides good services to its people and raises their quality of life.