(Source: GlendaleStar): Darrel Jackson – Nearly 10 years after announcing its plan to build a casino bordering Glendale, the Tohono O’odham Nation’s purchase of nearly 11 acres owned by the city near the casino property was approved during the June 26 Glendale City Council meeting.
The land, which is on the south side of Northern Avenue approximately one half mile west of 91st Avenue, gives the Tohono O’odham Nation total ownership of the land near the new casino now under construction.
The purchased parcel is surrounded on three sides by land owned by the Tohono O’odham Nation, with the parcel’s fourth side fronting Northern Avenue. The property would not be used for gaming purposes, but for future economic development, undisclosed but not casino-related.
“I just want to thank the city for the support on the endeavor in purchasing this land,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Edward Manuel said. “We purchased over 54 acres to build a casino and also purchased 88 acres for future economic development and this purchase makes our land complete for future development.”
The city, which purchased the land in 2002 from Bill and Gertrude Hickman, agreed to sell it to the Nation for $3.1 million, nearly $282,000 per acre.
“This sale will have no financial impact on city departments with property maintenance actually being eliminated for the city,” City Engineer David Beard said.
Voters in 2002 approved Proposition 202, which is an initiative giving tribes the exclusive right to operate casino gaming in Arizona in exchange for a share of the profits. Voters were told that gaming would be limited to existing reservations.
The Tohono O’odham Nation purchased the parcel of land in an unincorporated portion of Glendale in 2003 through a corporate alias, which did not become public until 2009 when the tribe asked the U.S. Department of Interior to make it part of its reservation.
After that, numerous lawsuits were brought on by the state and other tribes that contended the land purchased after the 2002 initiative cannot legally have gaming under the terms voters had approved.
In 2017, an agreement was announced between the state and the tribe that resulted in having the state drop its lawsuit alleging the tribe acted illegally in building a casino in the Phoenix area.
Nearly eight years after the project was first announced, the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise (TOGE) broke ground Dec. 1, 2017, on the permanent, full-scale home for its Class III Desert Diamond Casino – West Valley.
The new facility will feature a 75,000-square-foot casino floor with Class III slot machines, poker and blackjack tables, and live bingo, as well as five restaurants. Construction of the $400 million project is on pace for a December 2019 grand opening.
“We are on time, under budget and will be ready for the December 2019 grand opening,” Tohono O’odham CEO of Gaming Enterprise Rudy Prieto said. “We have about 500 construction workers working hard and by this time next year, we should have about 3,900 employees working.”
Prieto mentioned positive discussions between the Nation and city officials.
“This purchase would produce a cohesive property and assist in planning future development of the property that complements the existing amenities at Westgate and elsewhere in the Sports and Entertainment District,” Prieto said.
Council approved the sale unanimously and Manuel thanked councilmembers for the sale.
“I just want to thank you for moving forward with our offer and I hope our working relationship will continue,” Manuel said. “We intend to build bridges, not burn them, and we want to create alliances with communities, and we are making every effort to do that here in Glendale.”