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Sky Ute Casino - AZRE Magazine September/October 2010

Arizona's Indian Tribes Expand Reservation Services

Indian Country construction boasts a variety of projects as Arizona’s Indian tribes expand reservation services

In September 1970, the Gila River Indian Reservation finished the first phase of construction of a $1M career center at Sacaton. It’s taken some time, but since then, much has been built on Indian reservations in Arizona — and the momentum continues.

Casinos, healthcare facilities, government offices and schools have sprung from tribal lands in the past 40 years, and continue to do so. But while casinos remain the largest projects on the reservation, the mix of projects continues to expand.

Take, for instance, the $100M spring training facility for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies being constructed by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, set to open in February 2011. Take note of Scottsdale Pavilions, SRP-MIC’s retail center on Indian Bend Road across the Loop 101. There’s the tribe’s recently opened Talking Stick Resort encompassing a 240,000 SF casino in a 15-story tower that houses almost 500 rooms. And the SRP-MIC’s Scottsdale business park, the Chaparral Business Center.

Projects such as these signal a growing trend among Indian tribes in Arizona of diversifying business development. And it sends a message that construction is still happening on the reservation, despite economic hardships worldwide.

“There are still opportunities there,” compared to the rest of the construction industry, says Matt Richards, project executive for Arviso/Okland Construction JV, which is 51% Navajo owned.

For Indian tribes nationally, “most construction work seems to be still centered around casinos,” Richards says. “What we’re working on, though, is hospitals, schools and government buildings. We’ve done hospitality projects, as well.

“One of the recent trends in our industry for tribal projects has been the multipurpose judicial complexes,” Richards says. “We are fortunate enough to be working with the Navajo Nation on two upcoming judicial complexes, one in Tuba City and another in Crownpoint, N.M. There have been multiple similar projects throughout the region, including the Pueblo of Isleta, the Pascua Yaqui, Colorado River Indian Tribe, and others.

Much of this work has been the result of an ARRA-funded (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) program for the Department of Justice, which allocated money for the construction of tribal jails.”

Kimberly Silentman-Kanuho, coordinator for American Indian Initiatives at Arizona State University’s Del E. Webb School of Construction, sees a broad mixture of projects happening.

“There is so much going on out there,” Silentman-Kanuho says. “There’s transportation — highways, roads and bridges. There’s also community and cultural centers, and health facilities. It’s not just gaming and hospitality-type development; there’s a wide variety of development going on out there.”

However, with the biggest, most expensive projects being casinos, other types of projects don’t get noticed as much.

“I don’t think those types get highlighted like the gaming effort,” Silentman-Kanuho says. “It’s across the board. The Diné College (in Tsaile on the Navajo Reservation) is getting a new library. (Northern Arizona University) is getting a new cultural center.”

Transportation projects are springing up as well, according to Silentman-Kanuho, many funded from ARRA. Those funds have allowed the tribes to finally begin projects that have been on the back burner for years, she says. Recovery.gov reports that at least $55M in Department of Interior grants have been awarded to Arizona tribes so far, not counting many other grant opportunities for tribes.

Convention space and entertainment venues are other directions tribes may be moving toward. The Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s $120M hotel expansion of Casino Del Sol near Tucson will include a 50,000 SF conference center. The 10-story hotel also has 215 rooms, three restaurants, a lobby lounge, pool, day club, spa and fitness center, a 1,120-space parking garage, and support facilities. In addition, the Casino Del Sol houses a 4,500-seat outdoor concert and entertainment venue.

AZRE Magazine September/October 2010