The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians celebrated the grand opening of its new $36 million Viejas Hotel in Alpine, California, on March 21 with traditional Kumeyaay bird songs, a Native American blessing and a sneak peek of "Rise," an elaborate Cirque du Soleil-style performance featuring contortionists and acrobats. The hotel hosted the world premiere of the full production of “Rise” the following day.
After the grand opening performances and remarks from dignitaries, fireworks lit up the sky, and the tribe commenced the first public tour of the five-story Viejas Hotel and its 128 luxury suites. The hotel, located just 30 miles east of San Diego, also features a pool and hot tub with patio area and cabanas, a business center, and a fitness room. A lobby area connects the hotel to Viejas Casino & Resort, where guests can play table games, slot machines, poker, high-stakes bingo, or engage in off-track betting. The casino offers several dining options, and just across the street are the popular Viejas Outlets, Viejas Bowl and Viejas Mini Golf. Construction of the hotel created more than 400 jobs, and the tribe has hired at least 60 people to staff it.
“Viejas Casino opened in 1991 and has become one of the most successful casinos in California,” Viejas Tribal Chairman Anthony R. Pico said in a press release. “That kind of success is not achieved alone; it requires dedication and teamwork.”
Robert "Bob" Brigham, the director of hotel operations, has been instrumental in inspiring that vision and collaboration referenced by Pico since the groundbreaking of the hotel in October 2011, when he was appointed to his current position. Brigham was selected for his successful track record with reviving a business after a natural disaster, overseeing the expansion of major gaming resorts, and improving employee performance and retention.
Brigham’s first course of action at Viejas Hotel was establishing job descriptions and an organizational chart, and overseeing property management, entertainment, wireless systems and designs. The opportunity to participate in the conception phase was one reason working at Viejas appealed to him. “I've been at the start of several hotels, but never at the beginning of the design phase, and it's been a great learning experience working with Viejas and the hotel committee,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network. “It's exciting times for the tribe, team members and guests at Viejas Casino,” he added.
Prior to joining Viejas, Brigham served as vice president of hotel operations at IP Casino Resort Spa in Biloxi, Mississippi. He joined the company in October 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.
“I went to the Hurricane Katrina property and found everything destroyed,” Brigham said. “Morale in the town was low, and thousands got jobs cleaning up properties. Many had lost homes and family members, but they all had a great attitude of rebuilding. The people were very friendly, and I joined the board of the Humane Society of South Mississippi and became president during my third year. We were able to increase the save rate of animals by more than 25 percent on the Gulf Coast.”
Among Brigham’s other roles, at Harrah’s Entertainment in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from November 2001 to October 2005, he managed the disruption of an $87 million expansion of Bluffs Run Casino (now named Horseshoe Council Bluffs) and decreased employee turnover from 100 percent to 15 percent. According to Brigham, during his four-year tenure, the casino’s customer satisfaction scores rose from the lowest to among the top of the company.
Brigham’s resume also includes positions at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort in Phoenix, Arizona; The Mirage in Las Vegas; and Treasure Island at The Mirage.
Brigham credits his great accomplishments throughout his career to building good relationships with his staff.
“There is a lot involved, but it's all about the people,” Brigham said. “Underneath, you are only as good as the person who is the weakest link. It's about hiring the best team, and many times, I've had the best team in the company. It's a challenge, but if I can give them the vision and direction to accomplish that, then I can see [any challenge or new development] through to fruition.”
While Viejas Casino & Resort only recently celebrated a momentous achievement with the opening of Viejas Hotel, the tribe is already looking forward to more progress.
“The addition of Viejas Hotel is a major milestone on our journey together,” Pico said. “But that journey is far from over. Indeed, I believe we are closer to the beginning than the end of this wonderful journey together, and I look forward to sharing continued success with all the members of our community—tribal and non-tribal.”