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A standout proposal
By Todd Milbourn - firstname.lastname@example.org May 8, 2008, Sacramento Bee
KBC NOTE: (Klamath Tribes, with land given to them in the Klamath Settlement Agreement (they sold their reservation)... intend to expand their gaming. No taxes. No accountability for profits. They are the only group or race that can give unlimited money to elected officials, and give jobs with preference to their own race. Click Here for info on Going to Pieces tribal expansion book and to view the full-length online video.)
Scott Garawitz, Thunder Valley's chief executive officer, says the plan's performing arts center will attract top entertainment. Anne Chadwick Williams / email@example.com
It would be the Sears Tower of South Placer County: A 24-story casino hotel, towering above pastures and suburban homes, beckoning visitors for miles in every direction.
Thunder Valley Casino's expansion plans are, in the words of an architect, "jaw-dropping."
The proposed casino would radically alter the landscape of suburban South Placer County, where the skyline today features a four-story government complex, a few three-story parking garages and a biomass plant.
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"It'll be a big eyesore sticking out in the middle of nowhere," said Garry Meeker, 68, who lives a few miles from the planned high-rise, to be built atop a low-slung casino that now sits just off Highway 65.
Scott Garawitz, Thunder Valley's chief executive officer, acknowledged the hotel would be out of character for the rolling landscape – and that's the point.
"If this were in New York or L.A. or Vegas, people would say, 'This is pretty cool.' But bringing this level of hotel and entertainment to Sacramento is going to blow everything out of the water," he said.
On a tour of the casino grounds last week, Garawitz said the hotel would be the only one of its kind in Northern California – a four- or five-star resort on the order of a Four Seasons. One suite would be 2,500 square feet – the size of a large suburban home. And the hotel would include two new ballrooms, spas, an arcade and three new restaurants, plus an oyster bar.
The jewel, he said, would be an elaborate performing arts center built by the same Montreal company that constructed Celine Dion's theater at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
"This region is just starved for entertainment," said Garawitz, walking through a casino hallway featuring signed posters of the B-list artists the casino has attracted in the past.
Nothing against the country greats, such as Roy Clark, Garawitz said, but the new theater would attract more current acts.
The proposal is wending its way through the environmental review process. Garawitz said he hopes to begin construction as soon as this summer, with the first phase complete by fall 2010.
So far, resistance to Thunder Valley's expansion pales in comparison to the tumult that erupted before construction of the original casino in 2003. The cities of Rocklin and Roseville and a group of private citizens sued to halt construction, fearing traffic snarls and a spike in crime.
Cheryl Schmit, a Penryn-based gambling watchdog who battled the original casino, said those fears have largely subsided thanks to a landmark agreement between the county and the tribe owning the casino, the United Auburn Indian Community.
That pact funneled more than $30 million to the county over the past five years and helped build a fire station near the casino. The tribe also has agreed to buy a ladder truck for the department if the new proposal gets approved.
"So often other tribes just build something and nothing is discussed or mitigated," said Schmit, who was one of only three citizens to speak at recent public hearing on the plan. "That's not the case with this tribe."
Robert Weygandt, the Placer County supervisor whose district includes the casino, said he backs the proposal but worries the high-rise would diminish the pastoral Placer landscape he's enjoyed since a child.
"It's a provocative question: On one hand, we've been working really hard to increase density for preserving open space. But it's big and tall and very different thing for Placer County," Weygandt said.
For a measure of just how different, consider Lincoln's current skyline, if you can call it that: A grain elevator and a three-story office building, and nearby, the 147-feet-tall Rio Bravo Rocklin biomass plant.
Last year, the City Council relaxed a ban on buildings taller than 50 feet to make way for Lincoln's tallest building yet: A four-story government complex.
"You won't miss it, that's for sure," said Rod Campbell, Lincoln's community development director, referring to the casino high-rise planned just beyond his city's limits.
Sacramento architect John Packowski said building a high-rise in the foothills doesn't make much sense architecturally, but it's good marketing. If it were in Sacramento, the 24-story hotel would be the eighth-tallest building downtown.
"It's jarring, it's bold, it's gutsy," Packowski said. "They're not making a design statement here; their purpose to attract attention."
Garawitz said the casino had no choice but to go up. The tribe has a few acres available on its trust land but not enough for the size hotel it wanted. A high-rise hotel is easier to manage, too.
"If you did a Motel 6 thing, by the time the room service waiter goes from here to Room 602 on the other side, he needs a breathing apparatus," Garawitz said.
The casino is also looking upward for its 5,000-space parking lot. At nine stories tall, it would be Lincoln's second-tallest building.
The proposed expansion at Thunder Valley, imagined above, would encompass a 24-story hotel-casino and nine-story parking garage. "You won't miss it, that's for sure," said Rod Campbell, a Lincoln city official. Thunder Valley Casino
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