DESIGN FEE AT ISSUE: Planned Saracen Resort.

A court filing indicates a fee dispute over design of the Saracen Resort Casino in Pine Bluff.


Marlon Blackwell Architects of Fayetteville filed suit in federal court last Friday against HBG Design, Saracen Development and John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw tribe’s business committee alleging he’s being denied promised compensation for work on the casino-hotel under construction in Pine Bluff. A small annex is already open as construction on the larger project continues. It’s been said to represent an investment of $240 million.

Marlon Blackwell is chair of architecture at the University of Arkansas. He recently won the American Institute of Architects’ highest honor, a gold medal, for the body of his work.


The firm’s lawsuit says it did a substantial amount of design on the project and then HBG was brought in to assist. He said the Quapaws agreed to give Blackwell 35 percent of the architectural fee and 65 percent to HBG. But the lawsuit says the agreement wasn’t honored and Blackwell’s copyrighted designs were “stolen” for use on the project and Blackwell wasn’t paid The suit says further that HBG had “poisoned” the Blackwell firm’s relationship with the Quapaw tribe and Blackwell had been removed from the project.

The 55-page lawsuit, which details the history of Blackwell’s work on the project and some history on the passage of the casino amendment in 2018 that opened the door to a Jefferson County casino, seeks $4.4 million damages. Attorneys for Blackwell are Mark Henry of Fayetteville and Jack East of Little Rock


I’ve sought a response from the Quapaw development group, which will be responding in court in due course.

Here’s the full lawsuit.

UPDATE: Berrey sent this prepared statement:

We think that Mr. Blackwell is a very talented boutique architect.  But functionality and construct ability was 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.  We are very surprised by this litigation but we plan to defend ourselves and a very needed and community-minded successful project.