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Tucson officials, firms urge Glendale to back tribe on casino

From a Tucson City Council member to the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Sundt Construction to Shamrock Farms, close to 50 non-profits, businesses and politicians wrote letters in support of the Tohono O’Odham Nation as it seeks to build a resort-casino within Glendale.

Some praised the tribe’s professionalism. Others went so far as to urge the Glendale City Council to support the tribe’s proposed casino near the city’s sports and entertainment district.

“Glendale would be well served to work with the Tohono O’Odham Nation on this endeavor. The Nation is a good neighbor,” Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson wrote in a letter to Glendale council members.

Still, the council Tuesday voted 6-1 to oppose the creation of an Indian reservation at 91st and Northern avenues.

Councilman Phil Lieberman was the only member to favor the tribe’s plan to spend more than $500 million to create a 600-room resort and casino, the state’s largest. He favored the construction and service jobs the development would create.

“We need those jobs desperately right now,” Lieberman said

Mayor Elaine Scruggs said her opposition would be the same if it were “Canada” or “Germany” seeking the parcel. She opposes a sovereign nation taking land from Glendale’s planning area, a district the city has carefully crafted into a sports and entertainment destination.

The council, however, cannot block the development if the federal government approves the Tohono O’Odham proposal.

The 134 acres that the tribe purchased in 2003 is in a county island. The land is surrounded by Glendale because it falls within a large tract the city strip-annexed in the 1970s and eventually intended to annex.

“We would have a sovereign nation within our corporation limits, and we would have absolutely no say on how it’s develeloped,” Vice Mayor Manny Martinez said.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, with a large reservation covering much of southern Arizona, turned north and purchased the land as part of a settlement agreement negotiated with the federal government to replace tribal land damaged by a dam project decades ago.

Because of the agreement, tribal leaders maintain the federal government should take the land into trust as a reservation through a mandatory, not discretionary, process.

The city opposes the notion that the land should mandatorily be taken in a process that would ignore any input from the city, county or other communities that might be affected.

The tribe is awaiting word from the federal Interior Department on its application to designate the land as part of its reservation.

Weighing in

More than 150 people filled the Glendale City Council Chambers for this week’s vote on whether to oppose an Indian reservation and casino at 91st and Northern avenues. Here are some of their comments:

• “It’s something that would degrade our area.” – Glendale resident Belva Barrick.

• “Our state right now is in significant financial stress. The construction industry is in significant financial stress. . . . This project will give jobs. This project will generate (income) taxes.” – Mike Gausden, who serves on the Arizona Contractors Association board of directors.

• “I want to see my native brothers build something besides (casinos).” – Bradley Andrews, 19, a Tohono O’odham tribal member who lives on the Glendale-Phoenix line.

• “I’m very grateful for what (casino revenue) does for me.” – Jason Francisco, a Tohono O’odham member who receives financial assistance for college.

• “A casino across from a school is a bad idea.” – Glendale resident Bob Richards, referring to Raymond S. Kellis High School.

• “I implore the council to pause and consider and meet with the tribal government.” – Scott Sirois, CEO of the Tohono O’odham Gaming Enterprise.

Taking sides

Here’s a look at where people and groups stand on the issue.


• Congressman Trent Franks – Gambling economically hurts more tribal members than it helps; gambling causes addiction, suicide and other socially destructive behavior; and Glendale could be left to pay infrastructure costs, according to a statement Franks sent April 7 to the Glendale City Council.

• State Rep. Jerry Weiers – “It is our desire that you issue an unequivocal statement that you will forever and all time oppose an off-reservation gaming facility in the heart of the City of Glendale,” he said in a Feb. 23 letter to Gov. Jan Brewer that was supported by 31 other state lawmakers.

• Danny Hendon, a principal with Rightpath Limited Developed Group – “As partners with the city of Glendale on the Dodgers and White Sox spring training facility and the proposed USA Basketball headquarters, my partners and I are concerned about the effect a massive casino-resort would have on our development. . . . The proposed casino-resort would only add to the oversupply of hotel rooms, leaving the development of our planned hotel impossible,” Hendon wrote in a Feb. 9 letter to the city manager.

• Jim Foss, who runs Jobing.com Arena – “Should this casino be built and should it expand its business portfolio to include an arena or theater, there is no doubt that Jobing.com Arena will face serious financial consequences that will not only impact our bottom line but that of Westgate and the city of Glendale,” he said in a Feb. 9 letter to the city manager.

In support

Backing the tribe, although not everyone took a stand on the proposed Glendale casino:

• Tucson Councilman Rodney Glassman – “The (Tohono O’Odham) Nation’s revenue- sharing grants have provided valuable resources to essential city services, such as our Police and Fire departments, as well as to key programs like housing improvement for low-income households,” Glassman wrote in an April 6 letter to the Glendale City Council.

• Michael Duran, vice president and chief development officer for Tucson Medical Center – “The Nation has been a valuable and trusted partner of TMC. . . . The Nation’s support for health care and other community needs have truly improved the health and quality of life of people throughout our region,” he said in an April 6 letter to the Glendale council.

• Mike Norzgaray, district sales manager for Shamrock Foods Co. – “We fully support the proposed Glendale property and trust that it will provide employment and many benefits and opportunities to the local community,” Norzgaray wrote in an April 6 letter.

• Bruce Taylor, project director with Kitchell Contractors – “The Tohono O’odham does not operate as a self-interested developer. They act as a nation of people interested in helping and improving people and their lives,” Taylor wrote in a letter to the tribe.

What’s next

Attorneys with the U.S. Department of Interior will determine if the Tohono O’Odham application for designating a parcel near Glendale’s sports and entertainment district as a reservation proceeds on the “mandatory” path for taking land into trust, as the tribe advocates. If so, the city and governor would have no input.

There is no clear time frame for a decision.

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