SANTA YNEZ, Calif. - The Chumash Tribe says the planned expansion of its Santa Ynez hotel and casino is all about catering to growing demand.
"It's what our guests want", says Chumash Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta, "obviously it is successful, obviously it is a beautiful place, we believe by doing an addition we can enhance what we currently have."
Chairman Armenta says the $160 million expansion project includes the construction of a new, 12-story tower with 215 hotel rooms and the 60-to-70 thousand square foot expansion of the casino floor to ease congestion, accommodate new restaurants and office space, but with no new slot machines.
Its would bring to 315 the number of rooms at the resort.
"Obviously we've been incredibly successful in everything we have done", Armenta says, "we feel very confident that we will be successful in this as well."
"We have two other hotels in the area which we run at a high occupancy rate", Armenta says, "we believe by adding additional rooms we can keep them full as well as the new rooms."
Initial reaction from people we spoke with who live in the Santa Ynez Valley to the Tribe's expansion plans range from simple concern to outright alarm about visual and traffic impacts, among other items.
"12-story tower, are you serious?", said Sue, a 38 year Valley resident, "you know what, ruin the Valley. The Valley is what it is, its just kind of sad. Honestly I don't know what it brings to the Valley."
"Because there's no other high rise in the Valley, its going to be different", adds 25 year Valley resident Barbara, "because I think its big enough already for the area, I don't think this area requires that sort of development."
"We're still lower than the (Santa Ynez) airport", Armenta counters, "it will be tall, unfortunately we don't have thousands of acres to build single story rooms so we have no option but to go up."
"I believe when you take a look at this, individuals thought it was too tall, I think the architectural style of this really fits into the area", Armenta says, "I think its very nice to drive by and take a look at our existing facility, the new facility will be almost identical architecturally."
Armenta says the hotel and casino expansion project has nothing to do with the Chumash Tribe's plan to annex the 1,400 acre Camp Four property in the Santa Ynez Valley which it says is needed for tribal housing and not gaming.
"This project (hotel-casino expansion) we started studying about a year ago", Armenta says, "we bought Camp 4 several years ago, the whole idea was to never have gaming on Camp 4, this should really ease the minds of those individuals out there concerned that we will put gaming on Camp 4, obviously we wouldn't do a $160 million-plus project and build another casino two miles away."
The Tribe will host a mandatory public meeting on the hotel-casino expansion project next Thursday night at 6:00pm at the Casino's Somala Showroom.
The public meeting is part of the State of California's requirement under the Tribe's existing compact with the State as part of the environmental review for the project.
Armenta says the expansion project will create hundreds of construction jobs for local workers and dozens more permanent positions when its completed.
"It's a tremendous enhancement to the Valley, it should attract additional tourism, which helps the wineries, which helps Solvang, which helps the local stores", Armenta says, "it is going to be a big shot in the arm, not just through the construction process, not just through the employment process once we open, but for the entire tourism of the Santa Ynez Valley."
The Tribe hopes to break ground on the hotel-casino expansion later this year.