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PINE BLUFF -- Rainy weather failed to dampen the spirits of about 150 elected officials, Quapaw Nation representatives, business people, and construction employees who attended a ceremonial topping-out Wednesday of the Saracen Casino Resort's 80,000-square-foot gambling floor, six months and seven days after ground was broken on the $350 million project.

"This is a proud day and it's proof of what can be accomplished when vision and commitment join forces," said Janie Cummings, general manager of Downstream Casino in Quapaw, Okla.

Mayor Shirley Washington and Gerald Robinson, county judge of Jefferson County, called the event a great day for Pine Bluff and the county.

"This progress means jobs for the unemployed. It means jobs for the underemployed. It means entertainment. It means making Pine Bluff that destination city that we all have dreamed of it becoming," Washington said, adding that the project "is one of the most amazing things that has happened to Pine Bluff in many, many years."

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNrXpU6qB-M]

Robinson said he was surprised, once construction was underway, by the sheer size of the project. Situated on 110 acres along Martha Mitchell Expressway, once both the casino and 300-room hotel are completed, it will encompass more than a half-million square feet. Before it is finished, Saracen officials said the project will provide nearly 1,000 construction jobs, and once finished, 1,100 permanent jobs.

"When this thing first began, I could not imagine how massive this would be," Robinson said. "I did perceive the economic boost that it would give Jefferson County. I've been in the annex and you see the smiles of all the people who are employed. I even knew some of the people who did not have jobs, but now have jobs."

Rodrequis Thompson, 23, a project engineer for Suffolk Construction, recently graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a degree in industrial technology, management, and applied engineering. The Pine Bluff native said he was hired straight out of college, and commented that when he started school, he assumed he would have to leave Pine Bluff upon graduation.

"Growing up in Pine Bluff, that's not your first mindset," Thompson said, adding that securing a good-paying job in Pine Bluff right out of college has given him the opportunity to work toward making his hometown better. He said his job on the construction site is challenging and stimulating.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of casinos in Arkansas at arkansasonline.com/casinos]

"The job experience has been amazing," he said. "I'm gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge, and every day is something else, another obstacle to overcome. Being able to actually come in after college and launch my career in a place where I can actually gain skills in another setting -- it's given me pride. And the project, on the whole, is going to pave the way for Pine Bluff."

State Desk on 02/13/2020

Print Headline: Rising of casino in PB celebrated in 'topping-out'

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