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San Manuel Band develops retail center

HIGHLAND, Calif. - If ever there was a tribe that has the business know-how and savvy to succeed at off-reservation businesses, it's the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians.

In December 2006, the Victoria Development Corp., an enterprise of the tribe, broke ground on the 12-acre San Manuel Village, a mixed-use commercial development project in the city of Highland, located in the picturesque San Bernardino Mountains.

''The tribe created Victoria Development to take care of some of its off-reservation enterprises,'' said Eric Jennings, project manager of Victoria Development.

Once complete, the San Manuel Village will boast a 110-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel, several sit-down restaurants, popular retail stores and a three-story professional office building. Combined, the building area spans 169,300 square feet.

Vince Duro, vice chairman of the San Manuel Tribe, said the concept for the project began about seven years ago. It went through several different design changes before the tribe settled on the current architectural scheme.

Currently, heavy machinery are trenching and leveling the dirt to make way for the foundations of the several buildings within the development.

Duro said that the tribe has received letters of intent from Roundtable Pizza, Starbucks Coffee and Cold Stone Creamery, just to name of few. But it's not official until the contracts are drawn up and signed. He said the confirmation of tenants would come later in the project.

The shopping center will come with a panoramic view of the city and the scenic backdrop of nearby foothills and snow-capped mountains. Jennings said that future tenants could place their signage in three different locations on the property, as it will be surrounded by Highland and Boulder avenues and State Route 330.

''It lends itself to view, light and air that residents of Highland enjoy,'' Jennings said.

Highland, with a population of more than 51,000, borders the San Manuel reservation and is about 50 minutes southwest of Big Bear Lake, a resort town nestled high in the San Bernardino Mountains, popular for snow skiing, boating and its Alpine village ambiance.

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The grand opening of the San Manuel Village is slated for December.

''We're hoping it will be successful and a coup for the tribe, and for other tribes to look at and be a role model,'' Duro said. ''We're going to be able to see it and have that sense of pride and ownership once it gets done.''

The San Manuel Band has about 200 enrolled members; the reservation spans 820, mostly hilly, acres. The casino takes up most of the land that is suitable for business projects.

Similar to other California gaming tribes, the San Manuel Band had meager resources on which to capitalize prior to its gaming days. Since settling on the reservation in 1891, it has withstood decades of poverty and financial struggles. When the bingo hall opened up in 1986, then expanded to the 100,000-square-foot San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in 1994, the future turned to one filled with promise.

And the band has succeeded at a slew of off-reservation projects.

Its joint venture with three other tribes, known as the Four Fires project, has proven successful. The 13-story, 233-room suite Residence Inn by Marriott opened in Washington, D.C., in 2005, at an estimated cost of $43 million.

''The tribe is pushing forward with economic developments that will transcend future generations with sustainable and diverse revenue source to benefit our children's children,'' said San Manuel Chairman Henry Duro, in a press release.

Meanwhile, another Residence Inn by Marriott is slated to open in Sacramento by early May. This time, the band joined with two other tribes in the $53 million Three Fires venture.

The band's additional ventures include the San Manuel Bottled Water Group, purchase of the renowned Twin Palms restaurant in Pasadena and the purchase of land/office buildings in Orange County.

''Strengthening our tribal government and building a robust and diversified economy is of utmost importance and this coming to pass through partnerships in which we join cities and businesses for the benefit of all,'' Henry said.