Sunday, January 24, 2010

American Indians moving ahead with high-profile projects on area reservations

Phoenix Business Journal - by Jan Buchholz Friday, January 22, 2010

Development has ground to a standstill across much of metro Phoenix, but brisk construction activity on some American Indian lands tells a different story.
Business has never been better for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, long considered one of the nation’s most aggressive and innovative American Indian economic developers.
The Gila River Indian Community also is doing well, recently celebrating the grand opening of its second major hotel, the $200 million Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino. The entertainment and hospitality district near Interstate 10 and South Maricopa Road now includes two hotels, a casino, spa, rodeo facility, equestrian center, the Western replica town of Rawhide, Firebird International Raceway and five restaurants.
Although the tribes rely on substantial revenue from gaming operations, economic development officials from both communities say they started diversifying their economic models back in the 1960s, long before they started building casinos on tribal lands.
None of the tribes contacted for this story would disclose specific financial data on casino operations.
“Way before gambling, our tribal leaders were looking at how to generate income, and they started with the Lone Butte Industrial Park, which is one of the top Native American industrial parks in the country,” said Robin Fohrenkam, Gila River’s economic development planner.
The industrial park — bounded by Kyrene Road, Interstate 10, Chandler Boulevard and Queen Creek Road — is home to 75 businesses, mostly light industrial and manufacturing facilities. The tribe also operates two golf courses, a telecommunications business, and a sand and gravel company.
Construction and raw materials enterprises represent a significant part of the Salt River model, too: The community purchased Phoenix Cement in 1987.
“Our economic goals are to be diversified and not have a single reliance on gaming income,” said Quannah Dallas, economic development manager for the Salt River community.
In 1989, Scottsdale Pavilions opened at Indian Bend and Pima roads. The 1.1 million-square-foot power center, built by a nontribal developer on leased land, was a unique deal that caught the attention of real estate and retail interests across the country.
“The community was really being innovative,” Dallas said.
The Pavilions morphed into other land-lease and development agreements, including a Walmart to the south and several business parks, including Riverwalk Arizona, Pima Center and Chaparral Business Park.
Unlike many rural tribes, the Gila River and Salt River communities leverage their proximity to the Phoenix metro area. Both view their hospitality and gaming enterprises as destination venues for local and out-of-state tourists.
Major league debut
More tourists will be visiting the Salt River reservation with the opening of the Talking Stick Resort this year and completion of the 11,000-seat, $23 million stadium that will become the Cactus League home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall said the Salt River community was selected for the new spring training primarily because of the location and that it would be built without taxation.
“We had several attractive options that came as a result of the RFP process, but in the end, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community clearly stood out,” he said. “We have been impressed with the progressive nature of the community, and its desire to create an entertainment district around the complex. This, along with the adjacent and existing Scottsdale Pavilions shopping center, will enhance the fan experience, which we anticipate to be second to none.”
The Salt River community counts the positive impact of the stadium in exponential terms.
“We saw this as something that would drive more development in the corridor,” said Levi Long, the tribe’s media relations specialist.
Increased traffic in the area should bring new vitality to the aging Pavilions, which has been hurt by retailers that relocated or went out of business. De Rito Partners, which purchased the center in 2008, is engaged in a major remodel and is working to bring new restaurants to the site now that the tribe has approved liquor sales.
Gaining attention
The Salt River and Gila River communities are not the only Arizona tribes getting in on the economic development action.

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