First Ever Marriott on Tribal Land Built With Mother Nature in Mind


There are 3,700 Marriott-branded lodging facilities around the world, but one of the newest --- Courtyard by Marriott/Scottsdale Salt River --- brings two distinctions that none of the other sites can claim.

The newly-dedicated four-story, 158-room, $22 million Arizona hotel has the distinction of being the first Marriott facility built on U.S. tribal land --- the 56,000-acre Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community --- and is also unique in being the first location in the world’s third-largest hotel company built to LEED Volume Certification to reduce waste and conserve energy.

The facility was dedicated June 5 in a ceremony that began with a blessing from SRPMIC Councilman Tom Largo on behalf of his tribe and Salt River Devco, the community’s development enterprise responsible for the non-casino hotel.

Prior to cutting the dedication ribbon, the tribe’s President Diane Enos offered an observation: “The O’odham people have lived here since time immemorial, joined later by the Piipaash, and the feat we celebrate today is a testament to not only the survival, but the know-how, ingenuity, and creativity of our ancestors who helped us get to where we are today and the promise of our future.”

This bit of Indian Country history didn’t happen overnight. “It was seven years ago to the day that this project got started,” said Marriott Chief Development Officer Eric Jacobs, who also reports his corporation is engaged in a number of opportunities and could end up with other facilities on native lands. “In addition to discussions with tribes in the Northeast and Canada, we’re also working with tribes in New Mexico and with the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona.”

Jacobs said that when the tribe approached Marriott officials about development options, site location was an important issue --- one settled in an unusual way. “While community members and officials of the tribe’s development enterprise were on an adjacent rooftop debating possible hotel locations, they spotted a bald eagle as it landed --- an event that convinced them it was a sign to build on that site, even naming the LLC that owns the hotel, Ba’ag Ceksan (Eagle Mark),” explains General Manager Melisa Gonzalez.

“It’s a vision of the SRPMIC to choose development that will last at least seven generations, so decisions made today are arrived at based on potential impact to future generations --- almost the definition of sustainability,” said Design Manager and LEED specialist Jefferson Thomas, one of the many Marriott corporate officers on hand for the grand opening.

“This Green Hotel is a LEED-certified prototype, one of the most energy efficient hotels built today, expected to consume 25% less energy by being less dependent on fossil fuels as well as reducing carbon emissions,” said Thomas, with Courtyard Brand Manager Janice Milham adding: “We are in corporate discussions that this Leed Volume program might become the new baseline for future developments.”

And --- with or without more eagles landing --- future developments are already expected immediately adjacent to the new short-term hotel with a contemplated long-term stay Residence Inn.

The economic impact of the lodging facility was evident even before the doors were open. “The community is committed to a policy of Indian preference and we stuck to that, actively hiring 15-20% of our workforce from native populations,” according to Salt River Devco President Vince Lujan. “We also used tribally-owned enterprises for materials and specialty construction needs.

“It was important to infuse culture into construction, to educate about the community and its two tribes, so you’ll see a significant amount of customization based on cultural design and influences. Ideally, one of the outcomes of economic development is to perpetuate the culture.”

Building and staffing a facility of this size (3,000 square feet of meeting space) is no small undertaking and hotel manager Gonzalez says a good working relationship with tribal members helped the process flow smoothly.

“We have 28 people currently on staff (20% tribal hires) to run this hotel from front counter staff to maids and maintenance, so we all hustle. At the end of the day, this property is special because of the team that put it together.”

Including the eagle that landed to add its blessing.