published Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Chattanooga-based builder EMJ Corp. launches biggest job ever: $250 million hotel, casino expansion

The planned 500-room hotel and River Spirit Casion expansion in Tulsa, Okla.
The planned 500-room hotel and River Spirit Casion expansion in Tulsa, Okla.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Chris Samples, right, president of RedStone Construction Services, talks alongside EMJ Corp. Chief Executive Jay Jolly on Wednesday  in Tulsa, Okla.
Chris Samples, right, president of RedStone Construction Services, talks alongside EMJ Corp. Chief Executive Jay Jolly on Wednesday in Tulsa, Okla.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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Chattanooga-based builder EMJ Corp. is embarking on its biggest project ever.

RedStone Construction Services, a partnership between EMJ and Native American Chris Samples, will build a 500-room hotel and expand a casino in Tulsa, Okla., in a $250 million job, said EMJ Chief Executive Jay Jolley.

Jolley said the project, which is in design and pre-construction, is the largest EMJ has ever taken on either as a stand-alone company or in a joint venture.

The previous top job was $217 million for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's new home office in Chattanooga, he said.

Jolley said EMJ decided to venture with Samples in 2009 to create RedStone, with the express idea of doing jobs with Native American parties.

"It put the company on a fast track," Jolley said about creating the company in which EMJ is a minority partner.

The 42-year-old Samples, who is Shawnee and a native of Miami, Okla., said that after graduating from Northeastern State University, he worked for the Cherokee Nation as a grant manager. Also, he was chief of staff for the Eastern Shawnee for five years.

Samples said he and EMJ officials talked about "doing construction the right way" when they discussed the idea of RedStone.

"EMJ is a great group to work with," he said.

Jolley said the company has done nearly 30 projects so far and nearly all of those have been in Indian country. Only four of the jobs are casino-related, Jolley said, with most of the work having involved projects such as community and wellness centers, a life care facility, a health clinic and in education.

"It's more than come in and take the money and leave," he said. "Our vision is to be the most recognized general contractor within the Indian nation."

In the latest project, RedStone is joining with Tulsa-based Manhattan Construction, which helped build the Dallas Cowboys' new football stadium.

Plans are for the 22-story hotel and expanded River Spirit Casino to open in 2015, according to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. It's negotiating a partnership with musician Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville brand and will include the expanded casino, a restaurant, pool-bar area, theater, outdoor recreation venue and more.

Samples said the casino will feature full Vegas-style slot machines and table games.

"It will be state of the art," he said.

The project is expected to add 800 jobs, and it will create 1,800 construction jobs through 2014, according to officials.

EMJ has built more than 200 shopping centers across the country, including many of CBL & Associates Properties Inc.'s projects such as Hamilton Place mall in Chattanooga. However, the onset of the Great Recession late last decade had cut EMJ's business by more than half from the $1 billion revenue peak of 2007.

This year, EMJ is on track to produce close to $600 million in revenue, Jolley said.

Burt Odom, EMJ's president, said that landing the River Spirit project "validates our commitment to diversification and the growth of both Redstone Construction Services and EMJ Corp."

RedStone, licensed to do business in 27 states, has helped diversify EMJ's business not just in kinds of projects but in size, client type and publicly and privately funded work, according to the company.

In addition to RedStone, EMJ crafted a new division to better tap into the growing hotel industry. It also has branched out into the alternative energy sector with subsidiary Signal Energy, a designer and builder of solar and wind farms.

Jolley termed RedStone "a perfect piece of the puzzle."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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