Thunder Valley expansion put on hold

Casino calls "time" to make decision
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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The hotel and entertainment expansion project at Thunder Valley Casino was put on hold Tuesday, with a decision to be made in three to six months on scaling back the scope of the project, said Doug Elmets, spokesman for the casino and the United Auburn Indian Community Wednesday. “Essentially, what’s happening is the United Auburn Indian Community has made a determination that they’re going to reassess the scope of the expansion project in light of the current economic climate,” Elmets said. The plans for the expansion project originally included a 23-story hotel with 650 rooms, a performing arts center seating 3,000 and a nine-story, “smart” parking structure that would accommodate 5,000 cars. The current construction is “winding down,” Elmets said, with the contractors having received notifications on Nov. 25. He said there were 350 workers employed for the project at the time the notifications went out. “It will take three to six months to make a decision,” Elmets said. “There won’t be any construction on the expansion project until the evaluation is complete.” Elmets declined to release a list of contractors for the project. Contractors who have worked for the casino in the past and may or may not be involved with the expansion project did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The hotel, when completed, is planned to be at the upper end of the spectrum, with a projected four- or five-star rating, according to a press release. “We hope to finish in 2010, as planned, but there may be some reductions in square footage or parking spots,” Elmets said. “The tribe is making a very prudent decision.” That decision, however, has ramifications for the local economy. “It’s more of a sign of the times,” said Lincoln Mayor-Elect Spencer Short. “It’s unfortunate to see construction stop with the jobs it contributes to the local economy. We’ll see what happens in the next few months.” Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt was unavailable for comment Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The benefit to the local economy was expressed by Elmets in late October when he said: “One of the great things about this project, in a down economy, is that we’ve created 1,000 construction jobs and we’re looking at up to 1,200 jobs once everything is done.” Elmets also said that Thunder Valley currently spends $25 million in the economy through vendor services, such as beverage contracts, uniform expenses and laundry services. Original projections for the completion of the project were that that number would rise to approximately $70 million. In October, Elmets described the construction schedule as aggressive. The delay on the work will not affect any jobs within the casino, Elmets said, and the shuttle buses currently in use to take patrons between the gaming floor and the parking lot are still in operation. “It appears to be a more significant issue than it is,” Elmets said. “The reality is the tribe is reassessing the scope. Projects all across the country are reassessing where they are.” The expansion project has been talked about since shortly after the casino was constructed, Elmets said in October. One of the first questions visitors asked at the time was “Where is the hotel and the entertainment,” he said.