|By David Fleshler, Sun
SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 05, 2012--The hotel would tower 20 stories over northwest Broward, topping a mega entertainment complex that would generate 1,090 permanent jobs and turn quiet Coconut Creek into a national gambling destination.
The 1,000-room hotel proposed by the Seminole Tribe would be more than twice the size of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, eclipsing all but a handful of South Florida hotels and featuring an expanded casino, acres of shops and restaurants and a 2,500-seat theater.
The tribe's plan for this wonderland of gambling, dining, shopping and high-end hospitality has just undergone its first federal environmental review. While it's not yet clear whether it will get built, given the state of the economy and the legal uncertainties of the gambling business in Florida, a draft impact statement by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has found the impact would be significant.
The 1,090 jobs would range from housekeeping and security to casino positions to marketing, according to an economic study conducted with the environmental review. About half the jobs would be in casino operations, paying an average annual wage of $51,282. At the bottom of the payroll would be a few dozen security jobs paying $23,371 a year. At the top would be a handful of casino marketing positions paying $82,516.
Through direct and indirect employment, the hotel would pump about $76.8 million into the local economy, add hundreds of car trips per hour on nearby roads and lead to about 175 additional police calls a month.
The review was conducted in response to the tribe's request to take 45 acres it already owns next to its existing casino in Coconut Creek and declare it part of the tribe's sovereign land, allowing the tribe to build the hotel complex and take the land off the tax rolls.
But while the federal review has moved forward, the tribe has not put the project on the fast track. Like others in the gambling business, it is waiting to hear whether the state government will renew its compact for blackjack and other table games, which expires in 2015.
Gary Bitner, spokesman for the tribe, said there's no timetable for when the project will be built and no certainty it will happen.
"There are a number of factors that will be involved in any decision to move ahead on some or all of the master plan," he said.
Miami hotel consultant Scott Brush said a 1,000-room structure would exceed the size of almost all South Florida hotels, its only Broward peer being the 998-room Westin Diplomat in Hollywood. While the construction of such a massive project may seem unrealistic, particularly for a city not known as a major tourist destination, he said the hotel's casino, entertainment complex and sheer size could make it a successful development.
"Those kind of things have made it other places," he said. "It's not quite 'if you build it, they will come,' it's 'if you build it and promote it and market it properly, they will come.'"
Working in the hotel's favor are the casino and showroom, excellent accessibility from airports and a size sufficient to attract conventions and meetings, he said.
"They have the potential to make this a destination," he said. "Those things do work. They can also go badly wrong if they're not capable of doing it."
Coconut Creek City Manager Dave Rivera said the city made the best deal it could to protect its residents from additional traffic, fire and police calls from land over which it would lose authority.
"The reality is we have very little control," he said.
The main concern is traffic surrounding the casino complex. Once it's in operation, the complex would generate 521 additional car trips an hour at peak times, according to the review. Worst hit would be Northwest 54th Avenue between Cullum Road and Northwest 40th Street, although this could be offset through road improvements.
And the tribe has agreed to pay Coconut Creek $2.75 million a year to compensate for the loss to its tax rolls and the impacts of the development. Some of this money would go toward traffic improvements, including widening roads, building new roads, erecting new signs and adding traffic signals, Rivera said.
By becoming part of the tribal trust land, the 45 acres would come off the tax rolls, at a cost of $715,494 in annual property tax revenue to local governments, according to the economic report. But the report says this loss would be offset by the increased tax revenues to state, local and federal governments from the economic activity generated by the complex.
Based on the experience of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, the Coconut Creek project is expected to generate about 175 police calls a month, of which 70 would end up in court. But under the tribe's agreement with the city, it would fund additional law enforcement services and has expressed willingness to discuss compensating Broward County for the impact on the courts.
Although there was some early opposition to the original casino in the city, Rivera said it has turned out to be extremely popular and few people oppose the tribe's hotel plans.
"We've been dealing with them for 13 years, and we've had very little problem," he said.
Staff writer Nick Sortal contributed to this report.
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