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Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 01:31 PM

Snoqualmie Casino plan for hotel, growth draws mixed reaction

By Keith Ervin and Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times staff reporter

Even before a formal announcement of plans to expand the Snoqualmie Casino and build a 20-story hotel, the idea has run into resistance from some tribal members and the city next door.

A proposal outlined by Snoqualmie Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson to the Snoqualmie Valley Governments Association last week calls for a new 340-room hotel, conference center, larger casino and theater, and two new parking structures, with construction beginning as soon as next summer.

Mattson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The tribe released a written statement that said the "preliminary expansion ideas" are still under internal review, but, if brought to fruition, would be good for the area.

"As a local citizen, the Snoqualmie Tribe has contributed more than $3 million to (Snoqualmie) Valley communities since opening its casino in late 2008. ... Responsibly expanding the casino resort will allow the tribe to further invest in the Snoqualmie Valley communities, its citizens and the protection of its sacred places."

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said there was "a bit of stunned silence" after the presentation to members of the Snoqualmie Valley Governments Association on Nov. 28.

"A 20-story high-rise in the middle of a bucolic rural valley is not quite in keeping with the nature of the valley, what makes this such an attractive location," Larson said.

Larson said the Snoqualmie Tribe has been a very good partner and a good neighbor, but he didn't think it would be possible to disguise the height of such a tall building by locating it on the side of a hill.

"It would be like a big light-up tower at night in the middle of the valley. People expect more of a wilderness experience than this alien spaceship building," Larson said.

Larson also said the city doesn't yet know if the hotel would tap out the market for hotel rooms and make it impossible to build another hotel that would pay city taxes.

The casino is just outside the city of Snoqualmie, which doesn't allow buildings above five stories. The tribe, which contracts with the city for firefighting and sewer service, makes its own land-use decisions.

A 20-story hotel "would definitely be higher than anything east of Bellevue," said Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger, who said it would help alleviate a shortage of hotel space on the Eastside.

Rodger McCollum, CEO of Snoqualmie Valley Hospital, said that as president of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, he welcomes the casino expansion.

"That would create a significant number of new jobs and they're already the largest employer," McCollum said. "The casino is very successful, and it's been a tremendous economic boost to the valley," he said.

Cynthia Welti, executive director of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, said she doesn't yet know if the hotel would be visible from Interstate 90. But she said the tribe's existing casino is attractive and suits its location.

"They really distinguished themselves from some other casinos that go for high glitz and marketing versus something that fits in with the landscape. They're really espousing the right values," Welti said.

Some tribal members said they, too, were surprised by the proposal at a meeting last summer. "We told them point blank this isn't going forward until the general membership hears about it," said Carolyn Lubenau, a former tribal council chairwoman. The membership has demanded a special meeting on the proposal in February.

The hotel makes sense for the Snoqualmie's property, said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, and chairman of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. "They have had their eyes on expanding the casino and doing the resort for some time. The hotel is a fabulous idea."

Allen predicted a three- or four-star property, to compete with what the Tulalips offer north of Seattle.

Mel Sheldon, chairman of the board of directors of the Tulalip Tribes, said the Tulalips' hotel at its casino is full every weekend, with rooms priced from $250 to $580 a night. The luxury hotel, with about 370 rooms, is also a key amenity to offer high rollers.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com. Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lyndavmapes.






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