The last cows are gone and a strangely oversized new road now meets the edge of the Drye family’s former pastures.
Where the pavement ends, the pinyons begin. The desolate shrublands reach across the horizon to the west until the San Francisco Peaks rise as the only landmark on the plateau. But not for long.
Less than six months after celebrating their casino’s grand opening 25 miles east of Flagstaff, the Navajo Nation is doubling down on Twin Arrows.
The tribe recently submitted development plans to Coconino County that include a gas station, outlet mall, big box retailers, housing development, restaurants, RV park and an entertainment complex complete with a theater, mini golf, arcade, bowling alley and laser tag. The plans also call for 128 units of townhomes and condos plus another 32 lots for houses.
The 70-acre complex is called The Outlook at Glittering Mountain.
And because it’s not tribal trust land, the county will have to give final approval.
The residences and some of the retail are designed to service the casino’s 600 current employees, but the Navajo Nation also hopes to draw more tourists, interstate travelers and local residents.
Tribal officials say some of the construction funds have already been secured. The first phase of building is expected to be complete by next year, with $30 million to $50 million worth of construction on the entertainment pavilion and some retail. The final size of the entertainment complex will depend on the results of a feasibility study.
If the full project is approved by the county, it could take eight to 10 years to complete. The shopping center complex will either drill its own wells or tap into the casino’s well water supply.
For tribal developers, the project is a chance to deliver desperately needed jobs and revenue to the reservation.
MORE PROJECTS NEARBY
And they’re not the only ones looking to build.
Last November, the Hopis bought a massive piece of land from the Drye family on the other side of Interstate 40. It’s not yet clear what their intentions are for the property.
And down the road near Meteor Crater, an international consortium of scientists is considering building a $130 million array of telescopes.
County officials say the Interstate 40 corridor east of Flagstaff is brimming with opportunities.
The building isn’t likely to come overnight, but in the coming years Coconino County officials will begin to create development plans for the first time in that area.
“This is really like a new frontier out here and we’ve got to get it right,” said Coconino County District 4 Supervisor Mandy Metzger. “I’m very optimistic.”
Metzger’s sprawling district has no incorporated areas other than a sliver of east Flagstaff. She sees the potential for jobs, housing and services as a positive for the county.
She says she’s also excited about the possibility of reeling in development from the Four Forests Restoration Initiative. The largest forest treatment contract in U.S. Forest Service history is planned to thin and burn 300,000 acres in the next 10 years, with more after that. While many of the trees are in Coconino County, the mill is planned for Winslow.
Metzger says that each acre of treated land equals one semi load of trees, or about 30,000 truck trips a year through the corridor and on county roads. She’d like to see some housing for the workers in that corridor to help keep money in Coconino County.
HOUSING A PRIORITY
The managers at Twin Arrows also see their development as pumping money into the surrounding area and not just the Navajo Nation.
“Our payroll isn’t being spent at Twin Arrows, it’s being spent in Flagstaff and Tuba City,” said Mary West, project director for the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise.
Twin Arrows casino is expected to cost about $200 million at full buildout when it is complete, with a 200-room hotel, a spa and gaming floor with 1,000 slot machines. The operation is expected to employ a total of around 800 workers.
Twin Arrows General Manager Shaun McDaniel says Twin Arrows has quickly won support from the local business community, as they pump dollars into local advertising, support charitable organizations and make purchases in Flagstaff.
And the casino is employing Navajos in large numbers. That means much of the Twin Arrows staff must commute from Flagstaff, Winslow and well beyond to places like Dilkon (75 miles) and Tuba City (93 miles). The casino operators say that part of the desire to build housing stems from the long commute many of their workers face every day.
“We hire an operations team and train them and then we move on to the next property,” West said.
HONORING NAVAJO TRADITION
The managers are also proud of the casino’s efforts to reflect Navajo culture with subtle references incorporated into the building’s design and decoration.
Like a hogan, the casino entrance faces east. All the largest windows face north to the sacred San Francisco Peaks.
Inside, the gaming floor carpet is designed to faintly resemble water. A lavish chandelier in the round entry room seems to spill into a dome of LED lights in the floor, representing the Navajo origin story.
“When people come here, they’re going to know they’re on Navajo,” West Said. “They know they’re not at some flight hotel anywhere else in the country.”
The lavish steak house is buying mostly Navajo beef from native ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico. It also has a wall of top-notch wine and alcohol worth $250,000.
The Reef, a seafood restaurant opening to the casino floor, flies much of its fish overnight from Hawaii.
Each floor of the hotel is designed to symbolize a level of the worlds. The bottom floor carpet is a depiction of the Milky Way and night sky. The rooms are beautiful and brand new, designed to reach Four Diamond ranking eventually.
Currently, the hotel has just 90 rooms, but another 110 will be ready by next spring. A brand new spa and outdoor pool and courtyard are under construction for guest enjoyment and Vegas-style pool parties.
The additions are part of the resort’s second of six phases.
PRIME RIB SPECIAL
The casino is already drawing residents from town, plus tourists and truckers off the interstate. According to Twin Arrows managers, some 70 percent of patrons are coming from somewhere other than the surrounding reservation.
To grab those travelers, the casino is pushing a Wednesday night $9.99 prime rib special and $59 weeknight rooms. They’ve also recently tapped into a market of truckers now allowed to park on the premises. A freshly-erected electronic billboard broadcasts jackpots and specials to the some 25,000 cars that drive past every day.
“We’re just like Flagstaff, we’re dependent on the tourists,” McDaniel said. “Most of our business is off the highway.”
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Billboard lights up dark skies
Roy Drye is a fourth generation resident of the area who is not pleased about the flashing electronic billboard recently erected by the Twin Arrows casino.
He’s lived at Twin Arrows his entire life. He and his next-door-neighbor/cousin are the last of the Drye family who haven’t been bought out. He says there are now fewer than 10 homes in the area.
Until the casino came in and bought his family members out one at a time, he had envisioned living on the land for the rest of his life. The sprawling shopping center and housing complex will be built right across the newly-installed street.
Until recently, the tribe was delivering on their promises to the few residents remaining in the area, he said.
Then, several weeks ago, Twin Arrows erected the billboard. Now it casts shadows at night and Drye no longer has a need for a porch light.
The casino had given assurances to the astronomy community and residents that they would help protect the dark-skies.
“We have to close all of our windows now,” he said. “It basically took our country living away. Up until that we were OK. That thing does not meet any night-sky requirements.”
Drye and his cousin have both put their homes up for sale. He hopes to buy another rural piece of land once he’s bought out.
At the most recent community meeting the tribe hosted in July, Drye was told construction would begin almost immediately. He says he won’t expect construction to start until he sees the equipment across the street.
The Outlook at Glittering Mountain
-Two-story entertainment pavilion (50,000 sq.ft. of movie theater, mini golf, bowling, video arcade and laser tag)
-Cultural center/museum (30,000 sq.ft. )
-Tribal office complex (30,000 sq.ft. )
-Mixed-use specialty retail for residential (20,000 sq.ft. )
-Artisan Village (40,000 sq.ft., live & work)
-Upscale hotel (75 to 100 rooms)
-Auto service-oriented retail (40,000 sq.ft.)
-Big box retail (80,000 sq.ft.)
-Condos/townhomes (128 units)
-Residential detached (32 lots)