Hotel and Convention Center Planned by Chehalis Indian Tribe in Washington

Jul. 8--GRAND MOUND - The Chehalis tribe's efforts to bring a hotel, indoor water park and convention center to South Sound gained momentum Friday after the tribe received approval from the federal government for its proposed resort site.

The site, a 43-acre property near Interstate 5 Exit 88, has been designated federal trust land by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

That designation gives the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation jurisdiction over the property instead of Thurston County, according to Jeff Warnke, a spokesman for the tribe.

It also paves the way for the tribe to finalize negotiations for construction of Great Wolf Lodge, an estimated $85 million to $90 million project that would include a hotel, indoor water park and a convention center.

"This is the largest project that the tribe has undertaken," he said.

The tribe expects to wrap up negotiations with its codeveloper, Great Wolf Resorts of Wisconsin, by the end of the month and then begin work in September for a late 2007 opening, Warnke said.

Negotiations center on the management structure of the partnership between the Chehalis and Great Wolf Resorts, Warnke said.

The majority of the building costs will be financed through bank loans, he added.

Once completed, the 300-room hotel, 50,000-square-foot indoor water park and 30,000-square-foot convention center could employ up to 450 seasonal and full-time workers.

Combined with the 534 employees who already work for the Chehalis tribe's Lucky Eagle Casino, it would make the tribe the fourth largest employer in the county, jumping ahead of Capital Medical Center and the Tumwater School District, according to the Thurston County Economic Development Council.

However, unlike the tribe's Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester, Great Wolf Lodge would offer no gambling, Warnke said.

Besides Lucky Eagle Casino, the tribe runs Eagles Landing Hotel, two construction companies and two convenience stores.

The new resort could become a "southern gateway" for the county, Thurston County EDC Executive Director Michael Cade said.

"It's a significant development for the county and the Grand Mound area," Cade said. "It will serve as an attractor for capital and other types of investments."

Meanwhile, the Chehalis tribe's expansion plans are not the only tribal resort expansion plans in the region.

The Squaxin Island Tribe's Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton has broken ground on a new golf course, plans to open an events center next week and is going to add 100 rooms to its hotel, according to Doug Boon, the casino's chief executive officer.

Great Wolf Lodge means more competition, he acknowledged.

"Naturally, we wish them the best, but we always welcome the competition," Boon said. "It breeds better business for all of us. This is a booming and growing economy at this end of the state."

Besides Lucky Eagle Casino, the proposed Great Wolf Lodge and the growing Little Creek Casino Resort, the region is also home to the Nisqually Tribe's Red Wind Casino and the Skokomish Tribe's Lucky Dog Casino.

Asked whether there was too much economic development tied to casinos and resorts, regional economist Paul Turek said he views Great Wolf Lodge as a positive development.

"I don't see it as any different from private ownership looking to do the same thing," said Turek, who works for the state Department of Employment Security.

What remains to be seen is how successful the Chehalis tribe's venture will be, Turek said.

Because Great Wolf Resorts has a history of operating successful water parks and is coming to an area without an indoor facility, it could do well, he said.

"From an entrepreneurial standpoint, it has potential," Turek said.

Area casinos

Lucky Eagle: Located in Rochester and operated by Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis, it opened a 69-room hotel next to the casino in July. The tribe is getting closer to building a 300-room hotel, a 30,000-square-foot convention center and a 50,000-square-foot indoor water park under the brand of Great Wolf Lodge.

Lucky Dog Casino: The Skokomish tribal casino has embarked on an almost $4 million project that will connect two buildings for a restaurant, bar and more gambling space.

Little Creek Casino Resort: The Shelton-based casino of the Squaxin Island Tribe plans to add a golf course, an events center and 100 rooms to its hotel.

Red Wind Casino: The Nisqually Tribe completed a $31 million expansion at the end of 2004. The casino went from a 9,000-square-foot converted bingo hall to the current 85,000-square-foot casino.

<<The Olympian (Olympia, WA)(KRT) -- 07/10/06>>

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