The picture postcard view of The Greenbrier resort's white hotel facade offset with tulips in spring splendor is gone, replaced by cranes, dust and construction workers in a dash to finish an underground casino beneath what used to be the front lawn.
"It's basically crunch time," said Todd Fishon, the resort's vice president of casino operations.
A harsh winter has pushed back the opening of the 89,000-square-foot Casino Club to June and the exact date will be determined soon, he said.
The casino is being built underground so it won't take away from the ambiance and scenery of the 6,500-acre resort, which has entertained kings and presidents and once housed a secret bomb shelter intended for Congress.
A tiny portion of the casino opened in October. For the bigger version, an area in front of the hotel's entrance was excavated. Resort officials aimed for an April 15 debut, but Mother Nature didn't cooperate.
"Nobody expected to have one of the worst winters in West Virginia in recent history," Fishon said. "At the time when the weather hit, we were still trying to enclose it. We got behind. The extremely cold temperatures made it tough to pour cement. Every time it snowed, we had to dig ourselves out. Every snowstorm cost us a good week."
Gambling at The Greenbrier has been a hot topic ever since state lawmakers started tackling the issue in the mid-1990s. A 1999 state law allowed the resort to open a casino if Greenbrier County voters approved. Voters rejected such a move in 2000. In 2008, however, they passed the measure by a 51 percent to 49 percent vote.
It was all The Greenbrier needed.
Owner Jim Justice, who bought the resort in White Sulphur Springs out of bankruptcy in May 2009 for $20.1 million, has said a tasteful casino will help restore profitability and the coveted five-star Mobil Travel Guide rating The Greenbrier lost in 2000.
During the first five months of limited operation, the casino's revenues totaled $1.2 million. In February they were $299,713, up 2.3 percent from January, according to the West Virginia Lottery.
The full-scale casino will have 320 slot machines and 38 table games such as poker and blackjack. It will be open to hotel guests, resort club members and, if more than 400 rooms are booked, convention or event guests who are staying somewhere else.
The overall venue's flooring is complete, its ceiling is nearly done and millwork is being installed. An entryway is being built that attaches the casino to adjoining restaurants and shops.
"That is the last piece of the puzzle," Fishon said.
Initial plans called for an Italian restaurant inside the casino but that's been changed to Asian fusion fare and there also will be a high-end coffee and pastry outlet. Upstairs is Prime 44 West, the steakhouse that's essentially a shrine to NBA legend Jerry West.
Landscaping on the redesigned lawn and entrance area is under way and the project will be completed just weeks before the PGA Tour's inaugural Greenbrier Classic begins at the resort on July 29.
"Getting up and running before the golf tournament is a must," Fishon said.