|By Gabriela Rico, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 29, 2009 -PHOENIX -- The Tohono O'odham Nation plans to build the state's largest casino-resort on unincorporated land close to the professional football stadium west of Phoenix.
The 1.2 million-square-foot complex is expected to cost about $550 million, tribal chairman Ned Norris Jr. announced to a handful of people in Phoenix Thursday afternoon, following two days of meetings with state, county and city officials. The working name of the project is West Valley Resort at Northern Avenue.
At least 6,000 construction workers will be needed to complete the project, Norris said. When complete, the nation plans to hire about 3,000 workers.
Economic development consultants estimate the new casino would generate about $300 million for the state of Arizona annually.
"Obviously, we're really excited about this," Norris said.
The hotel -- with 600 rooms overlooking a 3-acre enclosed atrium -- will have 120 luxury suites, eight restaurants and dozens of shops.
Tribal acquisition of the land is part of a 1986 land settlement with the U.S. government, following the displacement of the O'odham San Lucy District members.
In 1960, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River. Chronic flooding in the 1970s and 1980s ruined 9,880 acres of land in the San Lucy District, including a 750-acre farm that provided tribal revenue. Members were forced to move to a 40-acre parcel of land outside of Gila Bend.
In 1982, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to find replacement land with a 100-mile radius, but none was identified.
Then-Senators Barry Goldwater and Dennis DeConcini along with then-Congressmen John McCain and Mo Udall sponsored legislation that became the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act. The act was signed into law in 1986 and authorizes the nation to buy up to 9,880 acres of private lands in Pima, Pinal or Maricopa counties.
The law also requires the Secretary of the Interior to take the replacement land into trust and that the land "shall be deemed to be a Federal Indian Reservation."
Norris said before the Nation can break ground on its new project, the land must be placed in trust.
He hopes to see the casino-hotel in operation by 2012 if all goes smoothly.
Asked if he was optimistic about securing financing on such a large project during a recession, Norris smiled.
"You have to be. What else is there to be?" he said. "We don't expect any problems with our proven track record."
Read more on this story in tomorrow's Arizona Daily Star
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