|By Ian Friedman, The Arizona Daily Star,
TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 30, 2010 --The Pascua Yaqui Tribe, owner of two Tucson-area casinos, announced Friday it will break ground in February on a hotel and convention center expected to create hundreds of jobs.
The Sol Casinos Hotel and Convention Center will be an expansion of Casino Del Sol, 5655 W. Valencia Road, and is scheduled to open in fall 2011, said Gong Liu, a project director for Phoenix-based McCarthy Construction who will oversee the project.
The 161,000-square-foot hotel and convention center will feature 215 luxury hotel rooms, a 1,500-guest convention center, an upscale steakhouse, an international buffet, an exercise facility and full-service spa, an outdoor pool and a multilevel parking structure, the tribe said.
The construction project will create 100 to 200 jobs, which will be filled mostly by local hires, Liu said.
"This is definitely a very significant project in this economy," Liu said. "It is a very significant job when jobs are hard to come by." Arizona's construction industry has been especially hard-hit by the recession.
There is not yet a precise number for the jobs that will be created once the project is complete, but the tribe said it will be in the hundreds.
The project was estimated to cost $98 million, said a news release sent out Friday on behalf of Sol Casinos. But project representatives later said that is a 6-month-old figure that could change and instead described it as a "multimillion-dollar" project.
Sol Casinos CEO Wendell Long said the convention center will aim to attract 30 to 40 medium-sized conventions per year, while also providing meeting space for local businesses.
The project is not intended as competition for the city-run Tucson Convention Center's 205,000 square feet of meeting space because the venues are targeting different markets, Long said.
"The Tucson people have been very good to us, and it is going to be an upgrade of the facilities for our current customers in Tucson," Long said. "We are always hearing requests that (visitors) want to spend the night, whether it is for the gaming or going to a concert, so this is going to make it a much nicer facility for them."
There are also long-term plans to begin construction on a golf course, Long said.
The Tohono O'odham Nation opened the Desert Diamond Casino and Hotel here in 2008, and the rooms are generally filled, said Scott Sirois, CEO of Tohono O'odham Nation Gaming Enterprise.
"Our operations are going well. I think we are doing a little better than average in Pima County for hotel occupancy," Sirois said Friday.
He said he does not expect the Pascua Yaqui hotel to create much competition because there will be demand for both. The additional conference space is a necessity near Tucson International Airport, he said.
"We just ended up recasting one of our empty rooms for additional conference space," Sirois said. "There does not seem to be enough of it when it is in high demand. And it is in high demand."
Larry Hecker, a local attorney and member of Downtown Tucson Partnership's board, said the Sol Casinos project announced Friday can only increase the viability of Tucson as a convention destination.
"I think the more people who identify Tucson as a destination for these kind of things -- a destination for conventions and for large group meetings -- the better everyone does," Hecker said. "It just enhances Tucson's image in the marketplace as a desirable place for conventions and group meetings."
At the same time, the revitalization of the Tucson Convention Center is progressing "fairly aggressively," Hecker said.
Kimberly Schmitz, director of communications and public relations for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, also welcomed Sol Casinos' plans.
"The Pascua Yaqui have created some really great products for our destination," Schmitz said. "An additional 215 rooms to Southern Arizona's offering are always welcome, and we will definitely look forward to promoting this and the convention center as part of our product."
IF YOU GO The groundbreaking is set for 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at the site, which is next to the south end of Casino Del Sol at 5655 W. Valencia Road.
DID YOU KNOW The Pascua Yaqui Tribe also operates Casino of the Sun, Casino Del Sol, the 5,000-seat Anselmo Valencia (AVA) Amphitheater and the Del Sol Marketplace.
Contact NASA Space Grant Intern Ian Friedman at 434-4083 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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