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2008-08-06
Parker, AZ. Indians Want Casinos and Wal-Mart

Any place in America that has any character or ethnicity left is endangered terrain when it comes to Wal-Mart superstores. Case in point: The Colorado River Indian Tribe's (CRIT) Reservation outside of Parker, Arizona. The reservation, located about 189 miles from Phoenix, was created in 1865, and for the past 143 years has somehow managed to survive without a Wal-Mart. The CRIT says its economy is centered around agriculture, recreation, as well as government and light industry. "The fertile river bottom lands and available water allows the production of agricultural and produce such as cotton, alfalfa, wheat, feed grains, lettus and melons. Approximately 84,500 acres are now under cultivation and another 50,000 acres are available for development." But the Parker Pioneer newspaper reports this week that Wal-Mart is moving forward with plans to build a store on the Colorado River Indian Reservation just over a tenth of a mile east of Parker, Arizona, and bids on the project have been posted by the Colorado River Building Industry Association. The Association received the architectural plans on July 31st. The store is slated to be built on Route 95, across the road from the Moovalya Plaza Shopping Center. In April of 2006, the CRIT-owned Moovalya Plaza shopping center announced that a Safeway anchor store at the Plaza was being enhanced. The Safeway plaza was upgraded to add a Starbucks coffee shop, plus three new restaurants: Subway, Carvel and Cinnabon. The Moovalya Plaza is a tribally owned shopping center, and the revenue generated by lease payments from tenants and through sales taxes from stores at the site are used to fund Tribal programs. According to CRIT, "The more diversified our economic base becomes, and the more new economic development opportunities that come to the Parker area, the better off Tribal members will be. These opportunities mean more jobs for Tribal members and more tax revenues for critical Tribal services." The two major economic development projects the Tribe has been engaged in are a casino and retailing. The BlueWater Resort and Casino opened in June, 1999. "The Casino offers a Las Vegas style atmosphere with slots, bingo, keno and poker. There are two restaurants, a snack bar and two cocktail lounges. 200 luxuary rooms and suites with river view are available as well as an indoor water park with four swimming pools, a water slide, children's pool and Jacuzzi," the CRIT boasts. The Tribe sees such ventures as "the best way for CRIT and its members to ensure their independence and sovereignty over time." The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Colorado River Agency released a Notice of Availability for the Wal-Mart draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in December of 2007. The development covers 10.31 acres of land on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. The CRIT will lease the site to Wal-Mart, to build and operate a 99,000 square foot Wal-Mart Superstore. The land is located on federal trust land. The BIA is the lead agency for National Environmental Policy Act compliance. The Environmental Assessment described a proposed preferred action alternative and a no action alternative. The preferred action alternative includes information regarding effects on cultural resources, wildlife & vegetation, water supply, wastewater treatment & disposal, and transportation access. According to the BIA, the CRIT proposed the project in order to "develop its land resources to diversify its economic base and provide additional employment opportunities to the area."

What you can do: This proposed Wal-Mart was first announced three years ago. The CRIT believes that this store will bring in an estimated $400,000 annually for CRIT, as well as providing hundreds of jobs. But this is not what's going to happen on this federal land. Wal-Mart will also blow a big hole in the CRIT-owned Moovalya Shopping Center across the road, The Tribe is basically cutting the throat of its other retail project. The Safeway is unlikely to survive having a Wal-Mart grocery store right across the street. The Tribe's hunt for new revenues has led it to compete with itself, and the "new" jobs at Wal-Mart may simply be transferred jobs from the Safeway and other area merchants. Officials in the tiny town of Parker are alarmed by this proposal. As of 2006, Parker had only 3,200 residents -- just 303 more than it had in 1990. Parker fears that the Wal-Mart will have a negative impact on businesses there. Parker Town Manager Lori Wedemeyer told the Parker Pioneer she is afraid of the effect Wal-Mart will have on the "mom and pop" businesses in her town. If Wal Mart cuts into sales tax revenue, this would lead to cuts in Parker's services to its residents. But the head of Parker's Chamber of Commerce says that his organization is planning to hold seminars for small businesses to help them not only survive Wal-Mart, but to thrive in their shadow. "We need to work with it and deal with it," the Chamber leader told the newspaper. But the Chamber has already held such seminars in 2005 and 2006. The only people who benefit from such seminars are the consultants who charge a hefty fee to tell local merchants what they already know: stress your unique services, stay open longer hours, and differentiate your product mix from that at Wal-Mart. In short, find a niche to crawl into -- or is that a ditch to crawl into? The Parker Chamber admits some businesses will be hurt when Wal-Mart opens, but they are counting on more people coming to the community, which will help gas stations and restaurants -- that is, unless Wal-Mart applies to open up a gas station and doesn't have a restaurant inside the superstore. The Chamber is being realistic when it warns its members, "It will be challenge." Readers are urged to email Parker's Mayor Karen Bonds at mayor@ci.parker.az.us with the following message: "Mayor Bonds, People in Parker are right to be concerned over the impact a huge Wal-Mart supercenter on land leased by CRIT will have on your small community. I urge Parker aggressively to fight this proposal, which is a big mistake for both Parker and the CRIT." A phone call should also be made to Tribal Council Chairman Daniel Eddy,Jr. at (928) 669-9211, with the following message: "Chairman Eddy, the CRIT economy for nearly a century and a half has been focused around agriculture and recreation. The idea of using nearly 11 acres of land for a Wal-Mart supercenter just makes no economic sense. This project will devastate the shopping center you own across the street. It's not economic development, its economic dislocation. You have the BlueWater Resort. This is enough suburban sprawl for the Tribe. Wal-Mart provides only low wage jobs that replace other retail jobs at places like Safeway. There is no added value here. Pull back from this project before it turns your area into the Wal-Mart reservation."










 
 
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