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Tribes join together to build downtown Sacramento hotel

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - For thousands of years, much of the Sacramento area
was home to the Yalesummi tribe. With the coming of white settlers began
disputes for the land.

One of these settlers was the Swiss-born John Sutter who settled near what
is now downtown Sacramento. In a tale only slightly less grandiose than the
sale of Manhattan island to the Dutch, the Yalesummi granted a three-year
lease to Sutter for land on the American River in exchange for about $100
in clothing and other assorted items.

The land never went back to the tribe when the lease expired due to U.S.
government annulment and that band eventually passed into history, the
victims of the relentless settlement that descended on the Sacramento area
after gold was discovered in a nearby town ironically named after the
tribe.

Now, more than a century and a half later, three tribes, two from
California, are working with a developer to re-establish an Indian presence
in downtown Sacramento albeit in a modern sense.

Three of the four tribes who built a Marriott in downtown Washington, D.C.,
that is slated to open next year, have pooled their collective efforts to
build a similar Marriott facility in a vacant lot near the state capitol.

Though they joined under the name "Four Fires" for the Washington, D.C.
project, one of the partners, the Forest County Potawatomi of Wisconsin
decided not to participate in the new limited-liability corporation, hence
Four Fires became Three Fires for the Sacramento project.

The three remaining partners are the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, the
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, both based in Southern California, and
the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin.

The original Four Fires Corporation was the first such attempt by multiple
tribes to combine their resources to form a corporation and marks an
economic diversification that is seeking to establish tribal enterprises
beyond gaming.

"Three Fires is a continuum of the vision developed with Four Fires, an
investment coalition of like-minded tribes to develop and construct
hospitality, tourism and other business ventures," said Viejas Chairman
Anthony Pico in a press statement.

Nikki Symington, who handles tribal communications for Viejas said it was
the press generated by the Washington project that brought the tribes
together with Sacramento developer Anthony Gionnoni who had been trying to
build a Marriott in Sacramento for years.

The $53 million project will feature a residence hotel with 239 suites and
30 residential units along with such amenities as a fitness center,
reception area and business center.

The location is choice as the site is about a five-minute walk to the state
capitol and the city's community and convention centers.

It would also directly compete with two already established large-scale
hotels in the immediate vicinity, the downtown Hyatt and a Sheraton Grand.
At this early stage it is difficult to tell what the impact will be. The
Hyatt currently reports that it averages about 80 percent occupancy and how
the new Marriott will effect their business is unknown.

Gionnoni is optimistic and points to the project's prime location. Though
Gionnoni did not return calls for this story, Three Fires did issue a press
release on the opening.

"This particular site is in the middle of a tremendous business district
expansion which includes restaurants, cultural amenities and business
office buildings. All of this adds up to a new vibrant synergy in the
immediate area, combined with the easy access to the capitol offices and
conventions," said Gionnoni in the press release.

Some local residents, however, do not share Gionnoni's enthusiasm. Ed
Carroll, a longtime downtown Sacramento resident, said the coming Marriott
was a sign of a more corporate and sterile culture.

Carroll works at Beer's Books which until earlier this year occupied a site
directly across the street from where the Marriott stands. Adjacent to
Beer's Books was a locally-owned cafe and used record shop, all subleased
by the owner of Beer's books.

The property was recently sold to a development group that evicted the
three locally-owned businesses and Beer's Books was forced to relocate to a
less desirable location, where Carroll reports that their business is off
by about half from the old location.

It should be noted that construction of the Marriott, which sits on a site
that was originally a Social Security Administration building and later
used to house local charities, did not have a direct impact on the fate of
these local small businesses. In fact, the lot is now the last piece of
undeveloped land in the capitol mall area.

However, Carroll contends that large corporate projects such as the
Marriott are symptomatic of what he characterizes as a "sterilization" of
the area that replaced locally-owned businesses with corporate behemoths.

"Very soon there will be nothing original in that area. As for the
Marriott, it just seems typical of big corporations coming in where there
are small businesses," said Carroll.

However, most local concerns have been muted and the investing tribes see
it as an important economic opportunity and have given some nods to
tradition. On Dec. 7 the tribes and their business partners held a blessing
ceremony on the grounds, something not usually associated with corporate
projects.

"Given the success of our Four Fires endeavors, we felt this partnership
represented an ideal opportunity to work with fellow tribes to develop new
ventures and make our presence known in Sacramento," said San Manuel
Chairman Deron Marquez in a Three Fires press release.

Current plans call for a summer 2006 opening and construction should get
under way shortly.