|By Bill Lindelof, The Sacramento Bee,
Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 15, 2007 - The United Auburn Indian Community revealed plans Thursday to build a hotel bigger than anything existing in the Sacramento region -- a 650-room resort.
Expansion would also include a 3,000-seat performing arts theater next to the hotel at Thunder Valley Casino near Lincoln.
Casino owners promise to bring big-name acts and large conventions to the new 23-story hotel, theater and ballrooms.
One suite will be 2,500 square feet -- equivalent to a large home. In addition, three themed suites will be 2,000 square feet each, including one focusing on sports.
Documents will be filed today with Placer County concerning the expansion. In an interview Thursday, General Manager Scott Garawitz outlined the ambitious plans.
Constructing a hotel has always been part of the 4-year-old casino's long-range plan, he said. Customers have been demanding on-site accommodations for convenience.
"Virtually from the day we opened, people asked, 'Where's the hotel?' " Garawitz said. "And the other question was, 'Where is the entertainment?' Well, here it is."
Approvals for the project could take a year. Construction will take two more years.
The hotel would create about 1,200 new jobs, bringing the total number of employees at Thunder Valley to 3,200. More than 1,000 construction jobs would be generated.
The expansion was outlined in a casino meeting room by Garawitz, a plain-talking, casually dressed executive in a Tommy Bahama shirt. The expansion would include:
--A four- or five-star hotel on the order of Four Seasons.
--A spa, pool and arcade.
--More slot machines and a new poker room.
--Two ballrooms totaling 30,000 square feet that can accommodate 2,000 occupants.
--A performing arts center versatile enough to handle trade shows, concerts and theater.
--A nine-floor garage with enough spaces for 5,000 vehicles.
--Three new restaurants.
The new amenities will enable Thunder Valley to compete with other gambling houses. Located near Interstate 80, Thunder Valley is on the way to Reno and Lake Tahoe resorts.
The sprawling casino also competes with other Indian facilities -- the planned casino in the El Dorado County community of Shingle Springs and Cache Creek Casino Resort in Yolo County's Capay Valley.
Cache Creek, which already has 200 hotel rooms, earlier this month announced its own expansion, including 467 additional hotel rooms, 27 "hillside casitas," two formal restaurants, more gaming and a large event-conference center.
The United Auburn Indian Community pays Placer County $2.7 million each year for revenue in lieu of property taxes. After expansion, that would grow to $10.7 million.
Once the hotel is built, the casino will pay the county about $1.4 million a year in room occupancy tax.
Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt said that there will be opportunities for the public to comment on the project.
"We will deal with this project in a way that has similar outcomes as any other major project proposal in Placer County," said Weygandt, who represents the area and last year benefited from a large contribution from the tribe in staving off a challenge from a political rival.
A public meeting to gather input on the scope of the tribal environmental impact report is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 11 at Western Placer Waste Management Authority Administrative Office, 3033 Fiddyment Road, Roseville.
Thunder Valley Casino opened in June 2003, situated among the brown hills in developing Placer County, 25 miles from Sacramento.
With 650 hotel rooms, the casino would become a major player among the Sacramento region's innkeepers. Downtown, the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Sacramento each have about 500 guest rooms.
"This will be on the order of Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons," said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the tribe. "There is nothing like it anywhere around."
Garawitz said a Montreal-based theater designer with a reputation for constructing venues with exceptional acoustics will build the performing arts center.
"We can do name acts, Broadway shows and stand-up comedy," he said. The casino does not have a theater now.
The hotel will have subdued exterior lighting, he said.
"I know that lighting is a concern, and we are sensitive to that," he said. "It's going to be a Ritz-Carlton style of lighting -- not a Wynn Las Vegas high beam."
The hotel will be appointed with marble floors and crystal chandeliers -- in addition to decoration recalling the traditional lifestyle of the owners.
Raised acorn decorations on doors and basket weave pattern carpet planned for the project recall the culture, heritage and traditions of the United Auburn Indian Community.
"The theme of the whole property is basically comfortable elegance with a California Native American flair," Garawitz said.
Among the new restaurants will be an oyster bar with a large aquarium and chandeliers to resemble blocks of ice.
The casino has a little over 2,700 slot machines, and a compact signed by tribes in 2004 with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger allows for more. It has not been determined how many would be added, Garawitz said.
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