January 22, 2017

Hualapai Tribe takes 2nd project from partners

PHOENIX (AP) – The Hualapai Tribe has taken over a second major tourism project from investment partners.

The Arizona Republic reports that the tribe has taken over the Western-themed town known as Hualapai Ranch.

The latest controversy emerged publicly as Hualapai leaders moved to appeal a $28.6 million judgment in favor of a Las Vegas developer who successfully sued the tribe's business arm over seizure of the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge built on tribal land.

Las Vegas developer David Jin's company, Grand Canyon Skywalk Development LLC, is asking a judge to garnish some bank accounts belonging to the tribe's company. Attorneys for the tribal enterprise have told the judge they're appealing the judgment.

Jim Brown, who built the Hualapai Ranch and cabins on reservation land under a revenue-sharing agreement, said the tribe kicked out his Western Destinations company last month. Brown's company released a document saying leaders of the tribe's tourism entity, Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, carried out a “premeditated plan to manufacture alleged events of default” at Hualapai Ranch.

Charlie Vaughn, a tribal councilman and former chairman who also served on Hualapai corporate boards, said outside investors violated legal agreements, and the Indian nation has an absolute right to determine what happens on the reservation. "It's a stand for the sovereign status of our people,” he said.

Brown, who had done Western attractions in the past near Black Canyon City with his brother Mike, said a Hualapai tourism official first contacted him in 2004 about building an Old West town as an extra activity for visitors to Skywalk, which was still in the works.

The project evolved into Hualapai Ranch, with wagon and horse rides, cowboy games, cabins and dining. The Browns' business signed an agreement to spend more than $1 million building the project in return for a share of revenue. The ranch opened in 2005.

Brown alleged tribal officials condemned and seized a Hualapai Ranch barn last March, then began planning new developments.

Grand Canyon Resort Corporation, the tribe's tourism entity, declared in December that Jim and Mike Brown violated construction provisions in their contract and called for the replacement or remodeling of buildings within 30 days and other services identified in the contract as tribal responsibilities. Brown said leaders of the tribe and its tourism entity refused to explain the alleged violations.

Grand Canyon Resort Corporation said Hualapai Ranch is a safety risk.

The Browns said Hualapai Ranch's modular cabins and other buildings were purchased from a company at the urging of tribal officials who said the structures met code specifications. The Browns said they cannot understand how Hualapai Ranch and the Skywalk continue to operate if the Grand Canyon Resort Corporation believes the public is at risk.

Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the Hualapai Tribe, said in an email that some ranch structures have been closed to the public, and buildings that remain open aren't hazardous. Cieslak also said Western Destination had ample time to remedy problems, but he didn't provide records verifying that assertion.

“They chose to ignore warnings, continue to rake in millions of dollars in profit, and not make simple corrections that would have ensured a safe and enjoyable experience for tourists,” Cieslak wrote.


Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com