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New Mexico Indian Tribe Developing $200 million
 Hilton Destination Resort North of Santa Fe

By Shannon Shaw, The Santa Fe New Mexican, The Santa Fe New Mexican
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 16, 2005 - The Pueblo of Pojoaque, in partnership with Hilton Hotel Corp., has struck a deal it hopes will result in the largest pueblo-owned hotel in the state, a new casino and convention center, an expanded golf course and a performing-arts complex, all set for an opening in 2008.

Pueblo Gov. George Rivera said if all goes as planned, the new Buffalo Thunder Resort hotel will have 400 rooms, the Cities of Gold casino will double its number of games to 1,600 and a new, smaller casino with 800 games will be built in conjunction with the hotel. The golf course will also add nine more holes, and a performing-arts center and spa will offer high-end amenities for hotel visitors. Hilton is not affiliated with the casino projects.

The cost of the Hilton hotel and casino, along with its estimated 35,000 square feet of convention space, is set at $200 million, and financing is nearly completed, Rivera said. The nine additional golf holes have already been added to the current course, but they have not yet been seeded. Effluent from a new wastewater system will irrigate the golf course, reducing the amount of water it uses, Rivera said.

Art Bouffard, executive director for the New Mexico Lodging Association, doesn't expect the hotel to draw lodgers from Santa Fe, but he thinks an eventual labor shortage could occur. During peak seasons in Santa Fe, many hotels and motels have difficulty getting workers, and if the labor force in Santa Fe decides to move out to the Pojoaque location, it would create a shortage, Bouffard said.

"Northern New Mexico is still in need of new development and an economy that can be long lasting, It's really a matter of surrounding communities participating in modern economic development," Rivera said. "We need to be viewed as part of New Mexico and not as competition. We are part of the state, and we have the right to do business here. It shouldn't be looked at in a bad light."

Santa Fe reached an agreement Thursday with Tesuque Pueblo on the new civic center. That project could be completed by 2008. The center will be 72,000 square feet.

With two convention centers, Santa Fe will be more attractive to national and international business conventions, Rivera added.

Rivera estimates the resort will provide 600 to 800 additional jobs, and that number doesn't include the construction workers needed to build the complex. With the wide range of jobs comes a wide range of salaries, but the pueblo will pay competitive wages, he said.

Santa Fe receives 40 percent of the gross-receipt taxes from tourism, and in 2004, the city saw 1.3 million visitors, said Steve Lewis, who is with the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. When the Pueblo of Santa Ana opened its Tamaya Resort near Bernalillo in 2001, Santa Fe lost a small amount of group business, but it eventually came back, Lewis said. He believes the same will happen at Pojoaque Pueblo's new resort. Sandia Pueblo near Albuquerque recently opened a 228-room resort.

The hotel projects are part of the pueblo's economic-development initiative, which includes seven to eight restaurants, a grocery store, two hotels, a 36-hole golf course and Cities of Gold Casino. Rivera declined to say exactly who is financing the projects.

The new resort casino and hotel will be part of the pueblo's Buffalo Thunder Resort. The hotel will be located between the existing Homewood Suites hotel, which opened last February, and the golf clubhouse.

The performing-arts center is still in the planning stages. The pueblo hopes to have concerts, plays and showcase Native American dancing and music.

The pueblo has 350 registered members and employs approximately 1,000 workers.

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Copyright (c) 2005, The Santa Fe New Mexican

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