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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane tribal casino construction to start this fall

The first phase of a new tribal casino in Airway Heights should open next year, the chairwoman of the Spokane Tribe said Thursday.

To do that, the tribe plans to break ground on the project this fall, Chairwoman Carol Evans said.

The project was approved by Gov. Jay Inslee just five weeks ago.

News of the fast start to construction came during a reception Friday afternoon, held to thank supporters of the 10-year effort to win federal and state approval of the $400 million casino resort and hotel.

Plans call for phasing the development over 10 years.

The first phase will include a casino with 450 slot machines and 12 table games, two restaurants, and an outdoor activity and eating area, plus parking. The main restaurant will seat 190 guests and offer a menu that will range from value-priced to fine dining options.

The project at Craig Road and U.S. Highway 2 in Airway Heights won final approval from Inslee after it had been approved by the U.S. Department of Interior in 2015.

“It will be good for the community. It is going to bring jobs,” Evans told the gathering in the Skyline Ballroom of the Red Lion Hotel at the Park.

Proponents estimate that the casino will generate 5,000 jobs in coming years and $66 million in annual payroll.

Evans said the Spokane tribal council asked its design firm to start detailed architectural plans last winter, well before Inslee’s decision.

She said the tribal council wanted to move the project to construction as soon as possible even though they did not know what the governor would decide.

“We took that risk,” she said. “We have been waiting a long time – 10 years.”

Tribal Councilman David Brown Eagle told Friday’s gathering that he sees the project as benefiting everyone in the area.

“It provides for our people,” he said, and it will create opportunities for the broader community moving ahead.

The tribe is seeking proposals for a construction contract through what is known as a “gross maximum price” building method, which sets an overall price.

If the final cost falls under the gross price, the contractor benefits. If costs go over, the tribe comes out ahead, Evans explained.

The chairwoman said it was too early to disclose the expected cost of the first phase.

But the first phase will be followed by ongoing phases until full build-out is reached.

The tribal council is working with Warner Hospitality, a casino developer based in Las Vegas. The company has experience with building tribal casinos in several states.

The design work is being done by Freidmutter Group, which specializes in resorts and casinos. It also has an office in Las Vegas.

Bill Warner, head of Warner Hospitality, said the current effort to get construction started involves putting together a financing package.

But with the success of tribal casinos elsewhere, he said lining up the financing is not a problem. It’s more a matter of getting the money in place to match the project, he said.

From its inception, the project has been controversial. Numerous business and government leaders fought to stop the plan, arguing that the project is an encroachment on nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, a major source of jobs and economic activity.

Encroachment is an issue because the base needs room around it to conduct flight operations without risking a crash into residential areas or places where people are gathered, opponents said. Encroachment, they argued, could result in a decision by the Air Force to close Fairchild in the future.

Support for the project within the Spokane area has been strong, said Sheri Johnson, a co-chairwoman of the Spokane Tribal Economic Project group.

A key piece of support came from both building trade unions and other unions in Spokane, said Mike Foley, the other STEP co-chairman, who is with the building trades council of the Inland Northwest.

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