GLENDALE, Ariz. – An agreement between the city and a southern Arizona Indian tribe seeking to build a casino on unincorporated Maricopa County land would pay Glendale an average of nearly $1.3 million a year over the life of the 20-year deal, have the tribe pay for road, sewer and water system upgrades, and require the tribe annually to fund city efforts to market and promote the venue.
The pact announced late Wednesday by city officials also voids those provisions if a congressional resolution aimed at blocking the project is approved.
The deal, the result of months of talks between city officials and representatives of the Tohono O’odham Nation, is expected to be approved by the City Council Tuesday, Aug. 12, despite opposition from some of the seven-member panel.
Word of the deal follows a 4-3 vote by the Council July 15 to reverse the governing body’s earlier stand against the estimated $600 million project, which cleared a key hurdle July 3 when the U.S. Department of Interior agreed to take the 54-acre parcel into trust as compensation to the tribe for flooding from a federal dam project decades ago that wiped out hundreds of acres of Tohono O’odham farmland near Yuma.
Councilman Gary Sherwood, who was the swing vote in the July 15 decision, hailed the agreement.
“We’re going to net $25.5 million over 20 years,” he said. “When you put a half-billion dollar project up, that’s going to inspire other development.”
Councilman Ian Hugh, an early casino backer, called the deal “fantastic.”
“We’re not spending any money. They’re going to pay us for water, wastewater and infrastructure. The most important thing is this is going to bring jobs to the West Valley,” Hugh said.
But opponents cautioned about the casino’s long-term effects on Indian gaming and the social fabric of Arizona, and said the cash-strapped city did not get the best deal it could.
“It’s a horrible agreement,” said Mayor Jerry Weiers. “The city had a position of negotiation, but that changed a couple of weeks ago when we changed our decision not to agree with the casino. We said, ‘here’s our cards, look at them real closely.’ At that point, we lost all negotiation powers,” he said.
Councilman Manny Martinez agreed Glendale could have done better.
“Even though I’ve been opposed to it, I’d want to see the city get the best deal it can. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is the best deal.”
Weiers also reaffirmed his position that the Tohono O’odham casino, which would be the West Valley’s first, would undercut a long-standing agreement between the state of Arizona and its tribes limiting Indian gaming, and open the door to saturating the state.
“This is going to be devastating. We’re going to end up with Nevada-style gambling. There are a lot of other tribes that will look at it and say, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’ I’m very convinced at the legislature several members will work hard to legalize off-reservation gambling. That’s a huge tax revenue. The state can start digging itself out of some these (state budget) holes.”
Weiers also was critical of the lack of opportunity for public input on the pact, noting there will only be Tuesday’s hearing prior to a council vote.
Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., in a prepared statement Wednesday, praised the draft accord, stating it follows many months of talks between tribal and city representatives.
“This productive agreement demonstrates what’s possible when two parties sit down and work together for the benefit of their communities and the entire West Valley. The Nation will continue to pursue a positive working relationship with the City of Glendale as we prepare to move forward with creating thousands of jobs and positive economic development in the West Valley,” he added.
Under the deal’s provisions, Glendale will receive:
- $1.4 million from the Nation in the first year of gambling and an amount 2 percent greater than the previous year’s payment in each following year through 2026.
- In 2026, the amount drops to $900,000, then rises 2 percent above the previous year’s payment through the remainder of the deal.
Also in the first year of gambling, the Glendale Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will receive $100,000 to promote and market the new facility. That amount will grow annually by 2 percent over each previous year’s payment. The annual figure would be well over $140,000 by the end of the agreement.
Glendale and the tribe also will work cooperatively to ensure proper police, fire and emergency medical coverage.
First unveiled several years ago, the Nation’s casino plan calls for a1.2 million square-foot casino resort on 54 acres, part of a 134-acre parcel surrounded by the city of Glendale off Northern Avenue between 91st and 95th avenues. The project would include 150,000 square feet of gaming space. The hotel is expected to include 600 rooms including 480 guest rooms and 120 suites.
Norris has said it would generate $300 million a year in revenue and create 3,000 new jobs for the area.
The project still faces a few hurdles. It requires approval from the federal Indian Gaming Commission and local construction permits. It could be stopped altogether by HR 1410 and/or SR 2670, resolutions sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-8th Dist., in the House and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both R-Ariz., in the Senate. HR 1410 has passed the House. Neither it nor SR 2670 has been scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the only panel it must clear before a vote in the full Senate. However, under the latest agreement, Glendale officials agree to work to prevent further action on either resolution.
The parties also agree to work toward coming up with a new gaming compact with Arizona officials allowing the Tohono O’odham Nation to continue to offer gaming or extend the present one to reflect the Nation’s project.
While no construction start date has been announced, the tribe recently named two large building firms, Indianapolis-based Hunt Construction, Corp., and Penta Building Group of Las Vegas to oversee the project.