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Talking Stick Resort set to open early 2010

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Talking Stick isn’t a stick and doesn’t talk. It is the newest of several enterprises owned and operated by Arizona’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Talking Stick Resort, opening early 2010, is the latest piece of an active puzzle for the nearly 9,000 tribal members sandwiched on 50,000 acres surrounded by several rapidly-growing Southwestern communities like Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa and Fountain Hills.

“We’ve been planning this facility for a number of years, so everything has been well thought out and with signs that the local economy is already beginning to turn around, we anticipate being the new shining star on the Scottsdale resort environment,” said Russ Burbank, senior vice president of operations.

“We’re not just doing this for the here and now, we’re looking toward the future, so this project represents forward thinking and a courageous step of faith to advance it at this time,” said Diane Enos, SRPMIC president.

Mindful that the man-in-a-maze tribal symbol is an apt design for an Indian community caught in the web of burgeoning metropolitan pressures, she remains confident. “We know how to be competitive in a marketplace. The current population is only going to continue to increase and in order to set the foundation for the future, given our location and the challenges we face here, we need to take advantage of all opportunities.”

While maintaining respect for their land by cultivating acreage as a natural preserve and a producer of cotton, melons, onions and other foodstuffs, the community also leases property for development of a 140-acre retail center thought to be the largest retail commercial development built on Indian land. In addition to these ventures, the community operates a nationally-recognized and environmentally-acclaimed landfill, as well as owning and operating two Casino Arizona locations with more than 1,600 slot machines.

As to the new facility, “We’ll have so much to do here, you won’t have to go anyplace else,” Burbank said.

“Talking Stick will be high quality, four-star in nature, where the strategy will be that lodging, dining, gambling and entertainment all play into the same game,” Enos said.

The 15-story hotel will offer nearly 500 deluxe rooms with more than 12 luxury suites with a business center, rental car availability and three retail outlets offering everything from spa amenities to sundries. The Conference Center has more than 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space, two dozen meeting rooms, a 25,000-square-foot grand ballroom, and 10,000 square feet of showroom space. Two garages will offer surface and valet parking with shuttle and limo service available.

Numerous restaurants will serve a range of cuisine options from upscale dining to a seafood bar or a multi-station international buffet. Entertainment possibilities are numerous with 10 lounge venues and a 750-seat showroom. There’s a 13,000-square-foot luxury rejuvenation spa and multiple championship golf course options. And there are more than 900 casino slot machines, more than 50 poker tables (Talking Stick Resort will be home to the annual Arizona State Poker Championship), 50 blackjack tables, a keno lounge.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to all of this,” Enos said. “Put it all together and you get numerous spin-offs of potential from derived income to our community, not only tax revenue, but more jobs and more opportunities for community business owners and small businesses. It’s difficult to calculate hard numbers at this point and there’s no ballpark figure of what kind of bottom-line income this effort will result in because there’s lots of factors to consider. We only know that we do the casino business the best of any of them in Arizona and with all the additional accommodations at Talking Stick, we expect to do quite well.”

“To have the opportunity to open such an incredible destination facility is almost mind boggling. It’s a dream come true for a person like myself who has spent 35 years in the hospitality industry to help create such a first-class, first-rate, multi-faceted facility,” Burbank said. “We’ll bring a lot of employment opportunities to locals as well as tribal community members. We expect to add at least an additional 500 to 800 more jobs in the marketplace and we’ve already had over 1,000 people working on the construction of this $400 million dollar endeavor.”

The two distinct backgrounds and cultures of the Pima (Akimel O’odham or River People) and the Maricopa (Xalychidom Piipaash or People Who Live Toward Water) will also be a part of the site with cultural aspects at multiple levels from displays and artwork built into the building, to the use of native outdoor plants and the outside skin of the hotel with its natural color of red mountain dirt.

“We’ve always run a top-notch operation and this will be another exciting opportunity to showcase what we do well,” Enos said.