WELPINIT, Wash. -- The Spokane Tribe recently broke ground on the first
phase of a commercial development that could eventually create 2,100 jobs
and generate an estimated $48 million in annual payroll.
The development is located west of Spokane and Airway Heights, outside the
boundaries of the Spokane reservation but on tribal ancestral land.
Estimated costs for the entire master plan are projected at $130 million.
This 145-acre parcel was purchased by the tribe in the late 1990s. It lies
alongside Highway 2 a couple of miles from Fairchild Air Force Base. It's
almost ironic that a stone monument a short distance away commemorates the
September 1858 Battle of Spokane Plains that involved Col. George Wright
battling members of the Spokane, Coeur d'Alene and Palouse tribes. Jamie
SiJohn, public relations director for the tribe, stressed that this land
was part of the 3 million acres once occupied by the tribe.
Tribal Council Member Rick Sherwood, commented, "The purpose of the land at
the time of purchase was for economic growth. It's always been a vision. To
get that vision in place took a little bit of time." The first phase will
include a SPOKO gas station and convenience store, including a deli with
seating, and is scheduled for completion this summer.
SPOKO is the name of a new gas station chain owned by the tribe. The first
station opened near the tribe's Two Rivers Casino last year and another
will likely open in late March in Wellpinit, making the new station the
third in the chain. Twenty-five new jobs will be created with the opening
of this latest station.
Future development is still somewhat tentative, but strong consideration is
being given to such things as a shopping center anchored by a major
retailer, a hotel and a casino. "We're getting letters out to companies to
see what they'd like in regard to businesses," Sherwood said. "The growth
is not only for the Spokane Tribe but also for surrounding communities."
When asked about a time line, Sherwood replied, "As fast as we can. We have
agreements to make with the county and both Spokane and Airway Heights but
we hope to have a pretty well-developed site within three or four years."
Meetings with other communities and governments have been very positive and
productive. "We want to have open communication with other communities,"
Sherwood said. "Obviously we're going to look out for the best interests of
the Spokane tribal membership; but at the same time, anything we can do to
help surrounding communities we want to do. I think we've made great
strides in relationships with Spokane and county commissioners from the
seven surrounding counties."
Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson concurred. "We're very excited about
working with the Spokane Tribe," he said. "I know they're working very hard
to gather everyone's input on what their plans are and for that I commend
them. The dialogue has been very productive. It's not very common for
different jurisdictions to communicate at that level as openly as we have
with the Spokane Tribe. I find it very refreshing. We think that with the
retail development they have planned, along with the proposed casino, it
will bring a lot of jobs to our area and we think they'd be a good
Tribal membership is more than 2,400, and the tribe presently employs 333
people. In the tribe's vision statement is the phrase: "Our vision is to
achieve true sovereignty by attaining self-sufficiency." The development's
potential 2,100 jobs will bring that vision closer to reality -- not only
in total number of jobs, but in diversifying business interests. Sherwood
noted, "This economic development will help us get to our goals. How long
that takes us [self-sufficiency], who knows: but we're going to work as
diligently as possible to get it done."