“This glittering jewel in the country reflects the natural beauty of its environment and our proud heritage.
- Maurice “Moe” John, Sr. (Former) President, Seneca Nation of Indians,
Background and Context
Just minutes from the premiere resort village of Ellicottville, New York, Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino sits nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, offering a world-class gaming resort experience to more than 3 million visitors each year. JCJ’s design complements the picturesque, natural surroundings of the region and tells the rich cultural narrative of the Seneca Nation.
JCJ Architecture’s long-standing relationship with the Seneca Nation stretches back to 1999 and comprises multiple, significant projects. The tribe looked to the JCJ team to carefully master plan this massive, complex development on a challenging, steep site adjacent to a mountain. The fast track schedule and phased implementation allowed the Seneca Gaming Corporation to quickly generate revenue, and to continue operations without interruption during subsequent phases.
The JCJ team carefully planned Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino for incremental growth, to offer a full complement of gaming and resort amenities that would meet a broad spectrum of guest experiences including not only gaming, but also entertainment, recreation and relaxation.
The JCJ Team began this project with an evaluation of four different sites. The ultimate site was chosen based on visibility and accessibility to the adjacent highway (I-86), size and constructability.
For the first phase, the JCJ team was challenged to design a temporary casino to be up and running to generate revenue as quickly as possible. The resulting 120,000+ square foot facility, designed and opened in just 5 months, utilized an efficient, pre-fabricated metal building. The initial offering included more than 55,000 sf of gaming space with 2000 slot machines and 24 table games, the “Thunder Mountain” buffet, a snack bar, retail store, bar and lounge. A structured parking garage with 1,850 spaces was completed soon afterwards to accommodate both this facility and future expansions.
In March of 2007, with the completion of Phase 3, the permanent “Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel” opened, expanding the count to 2,200 slot machines, 40 table games, (including a non-smoking casino and high-limit gaming area) as well as a 212-room, 11-story hotel, and 2 fine dining restaurants, the Seneca’s signature steakhouse ‘The Western Door,’ and an Italian fine dining restaurant “Patria.”
The next step was to transform the original temporary casino into the multi-purpose Seneca Allegany Events Center to accommodate everything from concerts and sporting events, to meetings and regional conventions. This venue hosts world-class performers, comedians, muscians and sporting events and can seat up to 2,400 spectators.
The fifth and final phase of the project opened in 2012 and included a 209-key hotel expansion, designed to seamlessly blend in with the original building.
A celebration of the Seneca Nation’s culture, the Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino is an architectural collage of tribal iconography, pattern and detail. Some representations are highly recognizable, such as the “Two Row” Wampum belt which prominently adorns the top of the building’s exterior. This belt is the symbolic record of the 1613 agreement made between the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee and representatives of the Dutch government in what is now New York State. The belt consists of two rows of purple wampum beads set on a background of white. The purple beads signify the course of two vessels - a Haudenosaunee canoe and a non-Native ship that are traveling down the river of life together, side-by-side but never touching, with each people in their own boat with their own laws, religion, customs, and sovereignty. Though the customs followed are different, each people are equal. The three white stripes symbolize friendship, peace, and respect between the two nations. Like significant basket weaving and beadwork techniques, the significant Two Row pattern was carefully integrated in many different elements throughout the property.
The ‘Eight Clans’ are the Seneca's traditional social unit, composed of families that share a common female ancestry and named after animals that provided special assistance to the Seneca: Turtle, Bear, Wolf, Beaver, Snipe, Heron, Deer and Hawk. Visitors to the casino and resort see reference to the clans starting immediately at the entrance, and regularly across the Casino Resort.
The common thread that unifies the entire property is the Seneca Nation’s deeply rooted reverence for the natural environment. The themes of sky, mountain, woodlands, wind and fire are expressed throughout. Perhaps one of the most significant visual elements is the reflective blue glass curtain wall that wraps the hotel towers as they rise up from the podium. The blue glass represents the Allegany River (water), the sky, and by reflection, the surrounding woodlands. Large-scale columns wrapped in field stone line the podium level at the entrances and porte cochere, adding an organic element to the otherwise sleek exterior.
The “Fire Lounge” bar area (now the “River Bar”) pays tribute to the story of “How Fire Came to the Six Nations” where a young Mohawk boy, discovers fire during his rite of passage at a sacred place in the mountains, and brings it back to his village. A large-scale glass sculpture represents fire in this space, and vertical wood veneer recreates the woodlands in this infamous story.
A grand mural depicting the four seasons in the main casino serves not only as an outstanding artistic expression, but it also helps to serve as a directional indicator for patrons on the gaming floor, and unites several distict gaming areas.
The “Three Sisters,” corn, beans and squash are of great significance to the Seneca Nation. References to these elements can be found in, throughout the property, as custom decorative elements, wallcoverings, floorcoverings, patterns and ceiling fixtures.
The first and second floors are intentionally designed to offer 2 drastically different experiences for guests. The first floor is bright, open and full of light with warm finishes, following a “Day Time Tribal Life” theme. The second floor offers a wide variety of spaces to meet the unique needs of each visitor, and with several exciting food and beverage options, including a bar inspired by the moon, the level sets the tone for “Night Time Tribal Life.”
The Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino has served as a source of pride for the Seneca Nation and has generated approximately $110 million in revenue for the State of New York year over year.
Seneca Allegany has received the AAA Four Diamond designation annually since 2009. It also earned the Certificate of Excellence Award from TripAdvisor® – every year since 2012 for consistent “4” ratings and positive reviews from guests.
The Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino has been recognized by Casino Player Magazine for “Best Rooms-First Place,” and “Best Suites-First Place,” as well as “Best Overall Gaming Resort,” “Best Pool,” “Best Spa” and “Best Hotel.”
JCJ's approach to this project has been featured in Casino Enterprise Management.