|By Kimberly Pierceall, The
Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 18, 2006 - The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Monday unveiled its final design for a 16-story hotel near Rancho Mirage, amid continued negotiation with city and county officials.
In 18 months, the tribe expects its high-rise hotel will emerge from the Coachella Valley's desert landscape along Interstate 10 and join two other tribal-owned resorts along the freeway stretch.
The tribe hired Orlando-based VOA Associates Inc. to design the 344-room hotel. At Monday's groundbreaking, VOA representative Jonathan Douglas said the firm moved the $185 million hotel's location to lower ground to address complaints about the building's proposed height.
Still, "you can't hide a 16-story building," said tribal planning director Tom Davis.
Richard Milanovich, chairman of the Agua Caliente tribe, said the tribe needs the hotel to remain competitive with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians who, respectively, built the 12-story, 250-room Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino and 26-story, 300-room Morongo Resort Casino along Interstate 10.
Milanovich also said the tribe no longer wanted to refer large groups meeting in the casino's ballrooms to other area hotels for overnight stays.
"It was taking a toll, naturally," Milanovich said.
The $185 million hotel won't include condominiums and will be managed by the tribe instead of a hotel operator such as Marriott or Starwood.
The tribe had always envisioned a hotel on the property since it first built the Agua Caliente Casino five years ago, but it took years of tribal debates, environmental studies and planning, Milanovich said.
It has also taken multiple meetings with neighboring Rancho Mirage, whose elected officials took issue with the building's proposed height and are still negotiating with the tribe for nearly $12 million for traffic and law enforcement solutions.
"The city of Rancho Mirage is most unhappy about a 173-foot (tall) hotel," said Rancho Mirage Councilman Dana Hobart, who did not attend Monday's groundbreaking. "That's not something that we'd celebrate."
Milanovich told a crowd of tribal members and city and business leaders those concerns have been addressed.
"When we do something, we do it in a way that is above reproach ... we do it right the first time," said Milanovich.
Davis said he expects a memorandum of understanding between the tribe and Riverside County will outline any fees the tribe is willing to contribute and should be resolved by the county supervisors before the end of the month.
Davis expects the tribe and Rancho Mirage officials will also come to a formal understanding on traffic and public safety issues.
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