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Supporters of Spokane Tribe’s Economic Project and Casino Meet Today

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The Spokane Tribe of Washington is announcing a group to support its $400 million mixed-use development project and off-reservation casino bid, reported The Spokesman-Review.

The Spokane Tribe's project has gained overwhelming support throughout the West Plains, Washington region based on the huge economic impact it would have on both the tribe and the surrounding community from private sector investment.

Supporters of the proposed Spokane Tribe Economic Project (STEP), the multi-use development project on the tribe's 145 acres of tribal trust land in West Plains, Washington, gathered for a public information session, which began at 11 a.m. today at the Spoko Fuel Station at Craig Road and U.S. 2. The event included a free barbecue lunch.

The pro-casino coalition now exceeds 200 members, reported The Spokesman-Review. The group’s co-chairs are prominent community members: former Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager, a West Plains resident, and Todd Ekstrom, manager of the Airway Heights branch of Bank of Whitman.

The group will counter the Citizens Against Casino Expansion, a coalition of business owners and community members who contend the casino would be harmful to the West Plains. The opposition coalition is lead by Irv Zakheim, owner of manufacturing company Zak! Designs who is ardently trying to overthrow the tribe's plans. “This project is bad for the West Plains, bad for the future of Fairchild Air Force Base and could lead to more off-reservation gaming in our state. Our group plans to fight it aggressively and we’re inviting citizens to get involved. The community has a voice in this process and we can tell the BIA we don’t want it,” Zakheim wrote in a press release, reported The Spokesman-Review.

The Spokane Tribe has submitted a land-into-trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); it will also need federal and state approval. Since implementing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, only three tribes have opened casinos under the two-part determination section--and one is nearby, the Kalispel Tribe's Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights.

More than 3,800 permanent and construction jobs are expected to be generated by the Spokane Tribe's planned entertainment destination, which will include a casino, a 10,000-plus-square-foot tribal cultural center, five restaurants, a food court, a convention and banquet center, a 300-room hotel, an entertainment center, and an indoor pool and spa, according to the STEP website. Also planned is a lifestyle retail center featuring shopping and dining, tenant space, a fire and police station, and a commercial development next to the existing Spoko Fuel Station.

The property's existing wetlands will be preserved, and the tribe's cultural center will feature both the historic significance of the Spokane Tribe in this region and the importance of protecting the wetlands and its wildlife.

The Spokane Tribal Business Council has worked closely with local, state and federal officials to meet guidelines. To date, the Spokane Tribe has entered into agreements for services with the City of Airway Heights and Spokane County, and received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration that its buildings would not obstruct air navigation for the U.S. Air Force - Fair Child Air Force Space or the Spokane International Airport.

A STEP video states that the development project will fuel the tribe's self-sufficiency and help it solve critical issues, such as a nearly 50 percent reservation unemployment rate, a shortage of housing, little or no health care for families, and a continuing decline in finances for tribal programs like education. The project will offer a "brighter future for the 'Children of the Sun' and all the people who have chosen to live here. That's why the Spokane Tribe's economic project was created."