WASILLA — Early on a recent Monday, work was in full bloom from every corner of the idyllic 12-acre parcel along the shore of Wasilla Lake. Heavy equipment chugged along the raw earth and dogs scampered in the morning mist, as workers put the finishing touches on the much-anticipated, multi-million dollar Mat-Su Resort, which opens to the public just two weeks from today.
A dozen men consulted blueprints, swung hammers and fired up signs of life in the kitchens. Each of them took time to cordially greet Director of Marketing Tammy Gongliewski as she led us through the labyrinth of lounges while explaining the history of Mat-Su Resort. “This is the original. This is it,” she said, from the concrete chamber of The Cork Room, Everett’s most intimate and upscale option for fine dining. Gongliewski has enjoyed hosting private events as the restaurant rolls out its initial menu. She has heard countless stories from previous owners, employees, and patrons of the iconic venue, each displaying awe at the transformation thus far. The parking lot alone is a new landscape for eateries in the Valley, with capacity for 599 vehicles.
Four distinct options await guests: The Cork Room, Fine Dining, Bar Bistro, and finally, J.C. Rae’s, a casual restaurant featuring a family-friendly menu and takeout options. The main building is flanked by all new composite decks, which will have seating and dedicated waitstaff. There are 12 rooms for lodging, each fully revamped and stocked with plump essentials and that priceless view. The slate and tile of the restaurant’s entry is mirrored here with muted silver and bronze fixtures against rustic log furniture, mini kitchenettes and crisp white walls, a vibe which resembles a Lake Tahoe lodge.
Jerry Neeser, principal of Anchorage-based powerhouse Neeser Construction, intends to serve “every budget and every desire” at the ambitious venue, which is slated to open mid-May. With over 40 years of varied projects to his credit in Alaska and beyond, from Natural Pantry to Goose Creek Prison among his recent local projects — Neeser’s restaurant represents something special.
Denise Tousignant (Director of Real Estate and Business Development for NCI), and acting General Manager while the project found its footing, was the impetus for the undertaking, according to Neeser. Now serving as Director of Operations, she passes the onsite management reins to Anna Plum. Tousignant prompted Neeser to examine the all-but forgotten mainstay of Valley life from decades past. “I knew it would take someone like Jerry — perhaps only Jerry — to realize the potential that many have seen but been unable to bring to fruition,” she said.
As a Valley resident, Tousignant says she’s in sync with the pulse of the local scene and was aware of Neeser’s own gratitude for the source of much of his workforce. “I would say, a strong 35-40 percent of Neeser Construction employees are Valley residents,” she said. “He wanted to give something back.”
“While vetting this for feasibility, I kept hearing these stories, of what it had been and what it had represented. Maybe if I were a sane man, I wouldn’t have signed on. It’s a labor of love. It deserved to come back,” reinforces Neeser. To his point, a golden anniversary celebration was held this month at Everett’s for a couple who had been married at the Mat Su Resort 50 years prior. “They were the most remarkable couple, seeing that slideshow of them over the years was stunning —- what a privilege for us to have them here,” recalled Gongliewski.
The Bar Bistro can accommodate up to 200 guests when combined with the elegant event space, which faces a generous stage and converts to a dance floor as needed.
After more than a year of intense preparation, management reports being selective about staff and discerning in their training, emphasizing the experience of each customer as paramount. “We’re really intent on capturing and transmitting that friendliness — this is their night out, ” Neeser said. As for the food, it can be generally categorized as Northwest cuisine with Alaskan flair. Considering its posh appointments and the range of appetites being fed, a spirited and unpretentious flavor is in the mix at Everett’s. “From pulled pork, pizza, mac and cheese, to high-end steaks, and everything in between,” Neeser describes the offerings. J.C. Rae’s, he says, is where families in beachwear or making a pit stop on their snow machines might swing by for quick food. “If you’ve been working all day and have boots covered in sawdust —- hey, come on in, everyone’s welcome.”
Upstairs, warm tones of wood, glass panels and mountain views surround the Bar Bistro, which opens onto yet another deck. Moving through the sumptuous waiting area, it’s all white linens and polished upholstery in the formal dining room.
The Cork Room presents a more swanky mood, with subdued lighting and the wine cellar ensconced just beyond its walls, the space is ideal for private parties. A separate bar and kitchen will serve events on the shore level, including mixology and cooking classes.
A centralized, year-round experience is Neeser’s vision for the Valley resort. He sees the population of commuters and families as largely untapped, citing 88,000 people who are eager for recreational and leisure outlets.
The staff will be comprised of 30 to 50 positions. Plans for ice skating, ice fishing, snow machine races, live music, helicopter tours, and waterfront rentals (pedal boats, paddleboards and kayaks) are on the books. A boathouse and expansive landscaping are next for the periphery of the restaurant and lodging. Tour companies are eager to deposit a dozen buses at a time, a move which Neeser says may wait until the rhythm of their first season is established. Outdoor banquet facilities including a pavilion, gazebo and gardens will anchor the east side. Wedding bookings are among Gongliewski’s chief priorities, with parties already securing dates and blocks of rooms throughout 2017. An American flag so massive it’ll be visible from the Parks Highway will soon be hoisted into place, staking the territory. The resort’s southern view, overlooking a red salmon stream, is its own highlight.
Neeser finds the historic Bogard Road property a natural fit for his enthusiasm and expertise. He approaches this with the signature temperament Tousignant first knew he would bring to revitalizing the Mat Su Resort: “It’s going to be an exciting place, truly a special place.”