SULPHUR — Chickasaw Nation officials expect to begin construction early next year on a nearly $22 million hotel patterned after a luxurious hotel built for the 1904 World’s Fair then torn down and rebuilt in Sulphur. Construction should be complete in mid-2011, said Robyn Elliott, Chickasaw Nation spokeswoman. The hotel will have 75 to 90 rooms, banquet and conference rooms, a restaurant, a cafe and a swimming pool, she said. The design includes no casino, and the tribe has not decided whether to put one nearby, Elliott said. Oklahoma has 92 casinos and gaming centers that submit roughly $9 million in fees monthly to the state, according to the Office of State Finance. Sulphur City Manager Bill Holley said the hotel will be good for Sulphur. "We’re very excited about it. Wheels turn slower than our excitement would like,” Holley said. "Everything’s still working, but it won’t happen tomorrow. I would like for it to happen tomorrow.” A Walmart Supercenter and a McDonald’s are expected to open in mid-September and early June, respectively, Holley said. Those businesses will be on the west end of town, and the hotel will be on the east, anchoring the downtown revitalization effort on Muskogee Avenue.
The original hotelProms, junior and senior banquets, and virtually every civic activity centered on the elegant Artesian Hotel for 56 years, said Lenell Portman, former city councilor, chairman of the city parks board and Sulphur resident for 86 years. "At that time, it was what we called an uptown hotel,” Portman said. The Artesian was built for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and torn down to be reconstructed in Oklahoma at Platt National Park. It was torn down again and moved to downtown Sulphur at the corner of First and Muskogee. The Chickasaw Nation bought the land for a smaller motel when the hotel burned in 1962. The Artesian featured a luxurious lobby, a marble fireplace and an elevator. People came to look at the sulfur-water fountain in the dining room and to be served by waiters with starched towels on their arms. After dinner, visitors often walked to the fourth-floor ballroom for dancing. Outside, men propped their feet on the brass rail as they sat in rocking chairs on the porch overlooking the forest. People visited Sulphur to drink and bathe in the sulfur-scented spring water that many considered medicinal. Though the new hotel won’t be a spitting image of the original Artesian, it will include a mineral bath in the spa, Elliott said. The banquet and conference rooms will seat up to 250.
The reactionPortman said most people in Sulphur like what they know about the Chickasaw Nation’s plan, though they anticipate a gaming center or casino will accompany the hotel. "We’re very excited,” she said. "Everybody thinks this is good for Sulphur, and the new businesses that are coming in we think are developing because of the hotel.” James John, editor of the Sulphur Times-Democrat, said the hotel will dovetail with the Chickasaw Cultural Center, a massive project expected to include a 2,400-square-foot screen and more than 96,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor spaces. "We’re hopeful it will give Sulphur a shot in the arm,” John said.
Economic boostBilly Frank Lance, a Murray County commissioner, said projects like the hotel and Chickasaw Cultural Center help boost the local economy. "With the Chickasaws’ construction projects, and you’ve got to remember we’re a county with just over 12,000 population, we’ve got nearly $100 million in construction going on right now. That’s a lot for a county our size,” Lance said.