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Tulalip Quil Ceda Village may be larger than Marysville

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MARYSVILLE, Wash. - "If we build it, they will come" is the attitude of the Tulalip tribe about its latest and most ambitious business development project, Quil Ceda Village.

A 400-acre business park situated within a 2,000-acre parcel of tribal trust land fronting Interstate 5, the site has everything a retail or manufacturing company could want. Just 40 miles north of Seattle, the park has nearly two miles of frontage on Interstate 5, a rail spur, a deep-water port in nearby Everett and two airfields in the area, one capable of handling any size jumbo jetliner or cargo plane.

For a long time, the tribe didn't have the funds to develop the land. With no local off-ramps from the Interstate for access, potential was just about all the property had.

For 30 years Boeing rented 1,200 acres from the tribe for an engine testing site and that was that. But in July 1992, the tribe's casino opened and everything changed.

Starting with 23 tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and poker, the tribe's casino kept growing until last year it produced $27 million in profits for the tribe.

While plowing the money back into infrastructure and education, the tribe also got serious about developing the business park its board of directors had envisioned so many years ago.

The tribe developed an ambitious plan for 400 acres in the southeastern portion of the property. A business park for large retail outlets and other commercial ventures, a shopping center, a new 150,000- to 180,000-square-foot casino, a destination resort convention center-hotel complex with restaurants and other entertainment facilities, plus a 6,000-seat arena appeared on the drawing boards.

Instead of depending on outside financing, the Tulalips put their own money to work.

"I actually believe that area is going to be bigger than the city of Marysville," says Stan Jones, tribal council chairman. "It'll really take the tribe forward. To me it's just like a godsend."

Within six years the tribe had worked with state and federal departments of transportation to build two new exits off I-5, one south, the other north of the planned facility. In the meantime it went forward with detailed planning, developed entry roads, put in gas, electric, sewer and communications and approached businesses about renting office and retail space in the park.

"What has taken so long is that the majority of the businesses that we wanted to attract, their first comment was, 'Well, how much do you want for the land?'" says John McCoy, executive director of governmental affairs for the tribe. "And once they hear (it's not for sale) they tend to wander off."

But they don't wander far. The only tribe in the country to have appealed to Congress for the right to offer long-term leaseholds to non-Natives, the Tulalip business park can offer 75 year leases to "big box" retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart without BIA intervention.

The long-term lease structure plus state-of-the-art facilities, fiber optics, transportation advantages and the potential of high volume traffic from Seattle, Snohomish County and Canada is attracting a lot of interest.

At this point in time, Wal-Mart is already under construction and due to open March 2001. Home Depot is under contract and eager to open for business in the second quarter of 2001.

A $2.5 million, 30,000-square-foot "neighborhood" shopping center is in final design phase and will be ready to go out for bids in February.

Peter Mills, business park manager for the tribe, says the shopping center will be open by August next year. He hopes the majority of the construction contracts can be done "in-house" by tribal contractors.

"It's really time for us to step out, take the bonding risk and build that sort of business skills and bonding skills and track record," Mills says.

The Tulalip tribe is also about to step forward to negotiate with the state about turning the park into a municipality, subject to taxation by the tribe, rather than the state of Washington. Once it's up to speed with a solid high occupancy rate, estimates for potential tax revenue alone average about $40 million per year.

Not surprisingly, some disgruntlement can be heard from a few business owners in Marysville who worry that the park, with its big box tenants and closed-loop tax structure, will harm the town's economy. But savvy business people from the area, such as the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce president Caldie Rogers, are quick to support the tribe's efforts.

She says business studies show that parks such as Quil Ceda Village bring in traffic and actually stimulate other businesses. In addition, millions of dollars of direct payroll will be poured into the surrounding communities which will, in turn, continue to feed the local economy.

"It's the centerpiece to Snohomish County's future prosperity," she says. "The fact that this whole business park is mixed use from retail to light industry to service ... the convention center and the 6,000-seat arena and then the incredible sensitivity the tribe has to the environment and the beauty of the whole park, it's going to put north Snohomish County on the map."

But still in its "looking for business" stage, the park has a lot of floor space to fill. McCoy says the tribe is interested in attracting lessees such as the Washington State Higher Education Board which is looking for distant learning center facilities in the north Puget Sound area.

"I called the governor and I said, 'Governor, you keep saying you want to help tribes. Here we got this beautiful business park and you're building state buildings. What's wrong with here?" McCoy says.

Despite the apparent rapidity of development, McCoy says the tribe is doing it with great care. Above all, he says, the environment comes first. If it comes to a choice between a fragile wetland and a big-paying retail customer, the wetland wins, hands down, every time.

A salmon-bearing tributary runs through the heart of the park and everything possible is being done to enhance the stream's habitat, making it all the more fertile for spawning salmon in the future.

For the Tulalip, wise development is where it's at. Quil Ceda Village is simply one more part of the overall economic picture.

"We're excited about the projects," McCoy says. "This is another move to diversify our economic base so we're not totally reliant on the entertainment dollar."