Ak-Chin plans expansion to meet I-11

The prospect of I-11 passing tantalizingly close to the Ak-Chin Indian Community has Tribal Chairman Robert Miguel thinking big.

A second casino. Likely a fuel stop. A restaurant and maybe another hotel. Certainly more prosperity for the 1,100 tribal members.

Miguel takes the long view of his community’s history.

Robert Miguel

Thirty years ago, the Ak-Chin community had little beyond its farm 35 miles south of Phoenix, Miguel recalls. Then came tribal gaming and with it a level of prosperity “we couldn’t have fathomed.” He points with pride to improved health care, educational opportunities and jobs. A lot of jobs.

Today the Ak-Chin community includes the Harrah’s casino and adjacent 500-plus-room hotel, a popular music pavilion, a golf resort, an eco-museum and a fuel plaza. The farm is now 15,000 acres, making Ak-Chin one of the largest farming communities in the United States. Cotton is the principal crop alongside barley, potatoes, alfalfa and corn. The community contributes millions of its gaming revenue to the state and is a sponsor of many of the big-name events that come to the Valley of the Sun.

The arrival of I-11 allows the Ak-Chin community to ponder a new chapter and a chance to right a wrong that dates back more than a century. Under a 1912 treaty, the Ak-Chin Tribe was promised 47,000 acres, Miguel says. But a year later, Congress rolled that back to 22,000 acres.

Now, armed with gaming money, Miguel and the tribal council have their sights set on buying the lost 25,000 acres, both to reclaim their history and to expand their reservation west toward an anticipated I-11 interchange.

It won’t be quick, and it may appear messy, Miguel acknowledges. Landowners are already raising asking prices far above valuations. And Ak-Chin likely will need to grab choice parcels first, even if they don’t immediately connect to the reservation.

Regaining the missing acreage was in the tribal council’s thoughts when negotiating the original gaming compact with the state. Ak-Chin demanded and won rights to open two casinos, an oddity given its modest land holdings. That second casino was surrendered in subsequent negotiations, but Miguel says during bargaining he got the second casino rights restored in the tribe’s latest gaming contract.

It’s less than 15 miles from the heart of today’s Ak-Chin community to the path of I-11. Would a second casino cannibalize the business of the original casino?

Miguel expresses confidence in the acumen of tribal leaders and their “great partners” with Harrah’s and the expanding Caesar’s empire. He also points to explosive growth in Pinal County.

He expects to have conversations later this year with officials of the Arizona Department of Transportation and with federal officials on a host of land use and planning issues.

Categories: Arizona, Opportunities

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