The Spokane Tribe broke ground Wednesday on a long-awaited and controversial casino in Airway Heights, with plans of opening for business within 10 months.
The first-phase of the development will be a $40-million casino with 450 slot machines and 12 game tables, two restaurants and an outdoor plaza. During the next decade the tribe’s economic plan calls for a $400 million casino resort branded under the Hard Rock Hotel banner.
“We have so many people to thank for this day. It’s been a long time coming,” Carol Evans, the tribe’s chairwoman, told several hundred people who attended the festive ground-breaking.
The Spokane Tribe first proposed the casino development in 2006, but waited nine years for the green-light from the U.S. Department of Interior to build the off-reservation casino. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed off on the project last summer.
The new casino on U.S. Highway 2 will be the second for Airway Heights: The Kalispel Tribe operates the Northern Quest Resort & Casino about two miles away.
“Our studies show there is definitely room for two casinos,” Evans said after the ground-breaking. “We believe in healthy competition.”
The new casino will be located on 145 acres that was part of the Spokane Tribe’s aboriginal territory, said David BrownEagle, the tribe’s vice chairman. The West Plains are historically significant to the Spokanes because of the battles that occurred between local tribes and Col. George Wright in 1858, he said.
The Spokane Tribe’s long-range plans include the casino, a resort hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues, shopping and a tribal cultural center.
When the development is built out, the Spokane Tribe says the casino complex will support more than 5,000 jobs with an annual payroll of about $66 million.
The casino complex will help Spokane Tribe’s efforts to reduce poverty among its 2,900 enrolled members, said Kevin Washburn, the Department of Interior’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, in 2015 letter. About a quarter of the families on the Spokane Reservation live in poverty.
Besides providing jobs, the casino complex will generate revenue to address pressing needs on the reservation, such as health care, education and cultural preservation, Washburn said. The tribe also plans to use some the revenue for cleanup of old uranium mine sites on the Spokane Reservation.
The new casino faced opposition from the Kalispel Tribe and government and business interests who feared the location would encroach on the flight path of aircraft approaching Fairchild Air Force Base. The Spokane Tribe participated in land use studies that recommended restrictions to protect Fairchild’s operations. The tribe agreed to limit its building height to 60 feet.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart spoke at the ground-breaking, praising the casino’s economic impact.
“It means jobs. It means taking care of the people who are native on the land,” he said.
Swinerton Builders has been hired as the general contractor for the casino.
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