Spokane tribe proposes new casino and resort

Dec 1, 2011

SPOKANE, WA - Spokane County could have another casino if all goes as planned for the Spokane Tribe of Indians. The Spokane Tribe wants to build on 145 acres of ancestral land in Airway Heights, but they must pass several levels of approval first, including that of wary public citizens.

The Spokane tribe created The Spokane Tribe Economic Project, STEP for short, in order to bring an economic boost to their tribe and community.

The proposal includes creating a casino, hotel, and shopping area in Airway Heights down the road from the Fairchild Air Force base. Jamie Sijohn, Communications Director with the Spokane Tribe, says it would bring 3,800 jobs.

1,200 of those projected 3,800 jobs would begin with construction as soon as STEP gains approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Spokane tribe is ready to begin. While others try to put the breaks on STEP.

“The location that they’ve selected for it is in the flight path for training purposes for the base, and we’re concerned that that would have a negative impact on Fairchild Air Force Base.”

That’s Rich Hadley, the CEO for Greater Spokane Incorporated. He says GSI has written both the governor and the Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding STEP.

Though Air Force officials have not given an opinion, Hadley explained that in the upcoming years, Fairchild will be up for review, and if there are factors hindering the base, it could be recommended for closure. Spokane Tribe’s Sijohn insists they have already cleared regulations with the base and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Our original hotel exceeded the height limit for the FAA regulations, so we lowered the height of our hotel. So the FAA did give us a letter saying you meet the regulations.”

Still, Hadley and an activist group called Citizens Against Casino Expansion remain concerned about the future of Fairchild. The group’s founder Irv Zakheim argues how many jobs it would really provide.

“Northern Quest… has 1,400-1,700 full time jobs, Coeur d’Alene casino which has been around about the same time has the same amount. So I don’t know where they are getting 3,800 from.”

But STEP remains confident, and promises to bring a casino, hotel, tribal culture center, small business retail and one big box retail, along wither a variety of restaurants. Local business owner Greg Satoro says he expects his Airway Heights business will benefit from the expansion.

“We really should support it, and the whole idea of the trickle down, the trickle down affect. So we’ll have people coming for gas stations for hotels, so the community I think will benefit from it.”

STEP has received support from several local officials, as well, including Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, and the Colville Confederated Tribes.

For now, STEP is waiting on their Environmental Impact Statement as their next step in approval.

OUTCUE: For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Paige Browning.

Copyright 2011 Spokane Public Radio