Marlon Blackwell Architects sues over Arkansas casino design

Tribe-ling Times

Marlon Blackwell Architects sues over Arkansas casino design

Marlon Blackwell Architects filed a lawsuit against the client and design team for the Saracen Casino Resort, currently under construction in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. (Rendering Courtesy Saracen Casino Resort)

Marlon Blackwell Architects (MBA) opened a lawsuit to dispute unpaid fees over the design of the Saracen Resort Casino that’s currently under construction in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. According to Arkansas Times, the firm filed a complaint this month against HBG Design, Saracen Development, and John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw tribe’s business committee, citing copyright infringement, business interference, and breach of contract for their architectural design work on the project. 

As chair of architecture at the University of Arkansas, Blackwell was recently awarded the 2020 AIA Gold Medal for his influence in both architectural education and practice. According to the report, his studio designed a substantial amount of the project before HBG Design was brought on to assist. The Quapaws allegedly agreed to give Blackwell 35 percent of the architectural fee, but this agreement was not honored.

Per the 55-page suit—which details Blackwell’s work on the project—the firm alleged that HGB and the Quapaw Nation stole MBA’s “copyright-protected architectural designs for that project, and refused to pay MBA what it is owed for its work on the project.” The suit further states that HBG had “poisoned” MBA’s relationship with the Quapaw Nation “by telling falsehoods,” which caused the firm to be removed from the project. However, much of MBA’s designs were still used in blueprints without credit. 

In an interview with Arkansas Times, Berrey said MBA’s work wasn’t on par with the Quapaw tribe’s goals. “We think Mr. Blackwell is a very talented boutique architect,” he said. “But functionality and constructability were lost in our process. We had hoped he was able to mold our specific needs into a great expression of the history of the wonderful Pine Bluff community, but it became very clear he didn’t share our vision.” 

The casino is anticipated to open by June 1, 2020, and will feature a 300-room hotel, spa, restaurants, conference center, entertainment venue, as well as a museum and cultural center that will open in early 2021. A casino annex has already been completed and began serving guests this past September. 

AN reached out to Marlon Blackwell Architects for comment on the lawsuit and will update this article upon receiving a response.