The Paiute Palace Casino is due to expand, and soon. There are no shiny banners or advertising on the electric marquee about the plans for a new hotel and bigger casino, but according to public information and scant interviews, the gambling house will grow.
No one at the Tribal Council or the Bishop Paiute Development Corporation has commented to The Sheet on the proposed $30 million dollar project, complete with a two-story 80-100 room hotel and approximately 885 additional parking spaces, the lot would extend from Pa Ha to Winuba Lane. The casino proper would expand an additional 10,000 more square-feet to the gaming area with three-floors total that would connect to the hotel.
The tribe is hoping to secure a loan for the project.
This is not the $20 million project voted down 287-258 by the General Council, members of the tribe, in July 2013. This is all according to Tribal newsletters and Request for Proposal documents for the construction. Non-tribal members are not allowed in Tribal Council meetings or have access to meeting minutes.
A design plan was completed in April, according to the May Tribal newsletter and the project is expected to take 18 months to complete, or early 2017.
The expansion seemed ready to break ground in August, but according to Dave Moose from the BPCD (in May), the contractor has delayed the project. There’s no mention of the expansion in the June newsletter.
However, the project is on a fast track, being done as a design/build project that “allows a single firm or joint firm to provide the engineering, procurement, and construction services under a single contract. The design-build concept is popular because it allows for fast-track scheduling while still controlling costs. This arrangement allows the design and procurement to start together, and construction to start when the design is about 30% complete. Projects can come on line in a very short period of time or months earlier than using a traditional contracting method.”
There have been two separate feasibility studies; one conducted by Hospitality Consultant Klas Robinson, QED, which does specific work with Indian casinos, for the casino expansion. PKF Consulting did a study for the hotel.
“Both studies confirmed what we believed, is that the Tribe should move forward with casino expansion including the addition of a hotel of up to 100 rooms. The project estimated is not to exceed $30 million and is within the limits of the feasibility studies,” according to Tribal newsletters.
The BPDC has also hired Ken Stanger of Sovereign Development Corporation “to assist in securing financing for the project.”
In the May letters, it states that the “Bishop Paiute Development Corporation discussed the casino expansion and hotel project at their annual meeting in October 2014,. We made a pledge to make the casino expansion/hotel project transparent – meaning that we will provide the Tribal community information throughout the project and will seek your input on how the project should look. This is something every Tribal member as a whole will own and be a part of. We want this casino and hotel to reflect who we are, how far we have come and what we are leaving for our people and next generation. We want it done correctly so that it will be profitable and bring increased revenue and jobs to the Tribe. There will be future meetings, newsletters, and we will use social media to let you know what is happening as more of the project is finalized.”
Ron Napoles, who claims his family’s land was illegally taken by the BPCD and Tribal Council to make room for the expansion, has been denied access to project details. He said he was told by the Tribal Council that it didn’t want information made public. In June 2014, the BPCD erected a fence and claimed the disputed land, the Napoles’ land directly behind the casino.
The Tribe had contacted the City of Bishop last week and said they were going to move forward with an 80-room hotel and casino expansion. It has also been in contact with the Bishop Fire Department. Bishop Fire Chief Ray Seguine said that there is a current contract between the tribe and fire and any expansion will require additional hydrants and access, per the current contract. Seguine said the tribe came to him with the expansion idea years ago, but he said he’d heard recently that the expansion is a go again and he expects the tribe to approach him again soon.
The Bishop Paiute Tribe is a sovereign nation and out of the city’s and county’s planning jurisdiction and has no contact with those respective departments, according to Inyo Planning Director Josh Hart, Bishop Building Inspector Gary Schley and Bishop Public Works Director Dave Grah.
The hotel feasibility study is unavailable, but there are some facts available about Bishop hotel occupancy. According to the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce there are approximately 800 rooms available in the Bishop. Annual occupancy varies by season, peaking at more than 90 percent down to 40 percent, for an average annual occupancy of 65-70 percent. 30% of the city’s budget relies on transient occupancy tax, or bed tax revenue.
Tawni Thompson, Executive Director of the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the two entities can work together to improve year-round occupancy to sustain existing properties as well as new development.
The expansion has not yet been a matter of discussion at Chamber mixers or at membership meetings, Thompson said, but it will most certainly find its way on the table soon.
The city will have to wait and see what impact the casino will have on the community or if the tribe and casino will work with the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau on marketing to try and fill all those hotel rooms.
The Tribal Council has made no communication with the general public or media about the project. Those who did want to talk about it were reserved and kept answers to a minimum.
The Tribal Council did not comment on the prior vote against expansion by the general council nor what economic impact the expansion will have on the casino. No one at the BPCD or the council commented on whether the expansion will mean living-wage jobs, additional revenue for funding projects that benefit the entire community and another popular, year-round attraction for the Owens Valley.
Or, will it create minimum-wage service jobs and lead to an internecine war with local innkeepers in a competition for business.
The tribe says Taylor Woodstone and RSP Architects, will be attending “community meetings with tribal members to get their input on design concepts and to provide project status report updates, conduct job fairs, train and employ tribal members, hire tribally-owned businesses/contractors.”
Note: It would be incorrect to refer to the “tribe” collectively as wanting the project to move forward or the “tribe” not talking to the public, as there is a disconnect between the tribal members or General Council and Tribal Council. The General Council originally voted against the project.