Wyandotte Nation buys land near Park City in hopes of building a casino

09/07/2010 12:00 AM

11/05/2010 10:22 PM

WICHITA — The Wyandotte Nation has purchased a commercial lot adjoining Wild West World along I-135 in Park City, the first chunk of six acres of land the tribe has earmarked for its casino there.

And if federal and state regulators cooperate, the Wyandottes still want to break ground on a Bingo-based casino on the land later this year.

Billy Friend, second chief of the tribe, said negotiations continue for the other commercial tracts that front the interstate.

"We want as much as we can afford," Friend said. "I think that from the discussions I've sat in on, between the lot that we've already closed on and the lots we're negotiating on, there's sufficient land there to do what we want to do."

The commercial land would become part of a casino and hotel project once the tribe wins approval of its application to have the U.S. Department of Interior put its Park City land into trust for gaming.

Friend said he expects action from the Department of Interior in "four to six weeks."

The application, which has been pending since 2009, has been signed by the department's solicitor and awaits the signature of Larry Echo Hawk, the assistant secretary of Indian Affairs.

Friend expects that signature soon in the wake of a June 18th order from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to move on the projects. Since then, eight tribes have had their land placed into trust, Friend said.

The tribe also believes that it can negotiate a Vegas-style gaming compact with the state of Kansas, in the wake of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' dismissal June 7 of a lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, the Iowa and Sac & Fox tribes, and Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians, along with the governor of Kansas, were opposing the 2008 opening of a Wyandotte casino in Kansas City, Kan. The three tribes already had a gaming compact with the state.

Park City Administrator Jack Whitson said he wasn't surprised by the tribe's acquisition.

"It makes perfect sense for them for off-site parking so they can maximize the size of the casino they want to build on their property," Whitson said.

The Wyandottes own 10.5 acres near the theme park, property the tribe purchased in 1992.

If successful with all the commercial frontage, the purchases would increase its holdings to almost 17 acres.

"We could do everything that we want to do on 10.5 acres if we had to," Friend said. "We could go up, building parking structures, rather than going out.

"But with the land we're looking at, we can go out with parking."

Wyandotte officials are working on a first-phase casino development plan that should cost between $30 million and $50 million, Friend said.

It's not clear whether the first phase will include an adjacent hotel, he said.

"Right now, we're trying to develop the first phase and we're in discussions with all our feasibility people, looking at the market studies," he said.

"The original studies we'd done are outdated. The economy there has changed a lot in the last three years. So possibly, we will include a hotel in the second phase."

The tribe has broken off negotiations with AEG Group to acquire the defunct theme park, purchased for $2.1 million by the Florida development group out of bankruptcy court.

"There are no discussions," Friend said. "He made us an offer to purchase the land, but it was a high number."

Whitson said that AEG had failed in an attempt to acquire the Sleep Inn and Suites, at 1075 E. Hopalong Cassidy Circle, adjacent to the park and the commercial property.

The frontage, originally owned by Wild West World founder Thomas Etheredge, was sold off to investors as Etheredge raised money to complete the park.

Etheredge is currently serving a five-year prison sentence after his conviction for misleading private investors in the park.

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