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Indian-owned Marriott hotel planned for nations capital

WASHINGTON - In an historic move revealing of newfound tribal economic strength and potential, four Indian nations have entered a partnership to open a hotel in the heart of the nation's capital. Completion of the project, a $43-million, 13-storey, $223-suite Residence Inn by Marriott, is expected in the spring of 2004.

Two Wisconsin tribes, the Forest County Potawatomi Community and the Oneida Tribe, and two tribes from California, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, have joined forces as Four Fires LLC. Incorporated in Delaware, Four Fires will develop the property in conjunction with The Donohoe Development Companies, a Washington, D.C.-based developer and builder of hotels. The Residence Inn Capitol, as the facility will be called, is to be operated by Hospitality Partners, a hotel management firm headquartered in Bethesda, Md.

"Native American business is expanding beyond reservation boundaries in a manner which will generate revenues outside of gaming," said Tina Danforth, Chairwoman of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, in an Oct. 4 press release. "It's time tribes began to capitalize on their business expertise to maximize our resources both off and on the reservation."

According to an Aug. 22 report in the Washington Post, each tribe invested $3 million in the hotel project; Four Fires will own a 59-percent stake in the hotel. Donohoe, which already owned the property on which the hotel will sit, put up some $8.5 million.

"This is a positive step forward economically for all tribal nations," said Deron Marquez, Chairman of the San Manuel Band, in the Oct. 4 press release. "By coming together and utilizing our combined resources, we are able to make this project a reality."

While the lodging and tourism industries are still recovering from the aftershock of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Four Fires tribes and their business partners are optimistic on the potential of their new venture.

Four Fires has capitalized on a great location adjacent to the National Mall and its plethora of monuments, museums and other tourist attractions. The new hotel will be located on the 300 block of E Street SW, only three blocks from the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian, which is currently under construction and is slated to open its doors in 2004.

According to the Post article, the NMAI is expected to draw some six million visitors annually. In order to be profitable, the Post said, the hotel would have to achieve 80 percent occupancy within two years and charge a minimum of $165 per room per night.

The Four Fires consortium represents a means for the component tribes to further diversify their individual business holdings, assets and revenue streams. It is also representative of growing cooperation between Indian tribes, who can provide capital, and non-Indian business entities, who offer specific business expertise and experience. Each of the four tribes involved in the project has profited from successful casino and bingo operations on their respective reservations, and each has expanded into other types of businesses.

"This is more than just a another hospitality investment," said Steven F. TeSam, Viejas Band chairman, in an Oct. 3 press release. TeSam added that the project reflects "something that has never been done before ? by tribal governments. Gaming has moved our tribes into the 21st century and this is yet another step that allows Native Americans to take our place in our diverse land of economic opportunity."

The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, located on the outskirts of Green Bay, Wis., has extensive business operations, including a bingo and casino operation, a 301-room Radisson hotel and conference center, a gas station/convenience store chain, and a printing press and bindery. The tribe has also acquired naming rights to one portal of the renovated Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers football team.

The Viejas Band, whose reservation is in Alpine, Calif., not far from San Diego, operates the Viejas Casino, as well as a pair of RV parks, a campground and a 57-store retail outlet center. The Band is also one of the first to own a bank, with a majority stake in Borrejo Springs Bank NA, and is one of the largest employers in San Diego County.

In addition to its casino and bingo operation, the San Manuel Band, located near Highland, Calif., owns and operates a water bottling plant.

The Forest County Potawatomi Community operates a pair of gaming establishments, a bingo operation in Milwaukee and a casino/bingo hall in Carter Wis., in the northeastern part of the state. The tribe also has lodging experience, with a 99-room hotel and convention center, as well as a convenience store and a venison ranch.

The tribes chose the name "Four Fires" to symbolize the recovery of Indian nations from "the cold and dark of economic depression through the warming fires of economic development."

"The four brightly burning fires, covering a wide geographic distance, send a signal of hope and inspiration to the rest of Indian country," the tribes said.