Article originally on Appeal-Democrat by Jake Abbot
In about a year, a new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is expected to be open in Yuba County and will employ more than a thousand people.
It’s not just talk anymore – construction is well underway.
The Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of the Enterprise Rancheria and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which owns Hard Rock International, are now partnering on the massive project. And they’re emphasizing that it’s a great partnership. Representatives of the international company and the local tribe expressed optimism, in a meeting Tuesday with the Appeal-Democrat, over the opportunities the new endeavor will bring to the region.
“We are blessed to have the Seminole Tribe of Florida partnered with us on this. It’s a game changer. I think we will all see that,” said Glenda Nelson, tribal chairperson for Enterprise Rancheria. “We are blessed to have Mark Birtha join our team. We couldn’t have partnered with a better tribe.”
Enterprise Rancheria and Hard Rock announced last week that Birtha would serve as president for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain, which is currently being constructed on a 40-acre plot off of Forty Mile Road near the Toyota Amphitheatre. Birtha has 25 years of experience in gaming and hospitality, and is fresh off a stint as president of the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park in Ohio.
Whenever a large company partners up with a smaller entity on such a project, there are speculations that the latter will take a backseat to the former. Nelson said that isn’t case with Hard Rock and the Seminole Tribe, which she said share the same morals as Enterprise Rancheria.
On Monday, the Seminole tribal chair came to the region and met with members of Enterprise Rancheria. Nelson said her tribal council and other members of the tribe have also been working side by side with Hard Rock on the specifics of the casino and hotel.
“(The hotel and casino) are going to make a world of difference for the Yuba-Sutter area,” Nelson said.
Birtha said Hard Rock is a “global brand with local sensitivities,” He said the company plans to invest in the community.
“At the end of the day, we take care of our people, who take care of our guests, who end up taking care of their communities,” Birtha said. “We plan on hiring local, building economic development opportunities and developing long-term partnerships.”
Nelson said the tribe has been focused on providing locals with jobs since day one. Area unions are tasked with constructing the facility. The plan is to also hire locally, as much as possible, once it is operational, which could prove to be beneficial for Yuba-Sutter, where unemployment figures are consistently higher than the state average.
Jon Lucas, chief operating officer for Hard Rock International, said the company has a culture of taking care of its employees.
“This will be a great opportunity to reduce unemployment,” Lucas said.
Lucas said there are 250 construction workers currently helping with the project. When all is said and done, he said well over 1,000 people will have been employed in construction jobs.
Birtha anticipates another 1,300-1,400 people employed to help run the casino and hotel once operational, both specialized jobs and more general. Enterprise Rancheria has a memorandum of understanding with Yuba County to give local residents and tribe members preference when hiring a workforce.
While specifics haven’t been worked out yet, he said those jobs will be above minimum wage and come with good benefits packages.
Birtha said he is currently hiring for his executive-level staff. He expects to finish hiring his team by the beginning of 2019. Then, likely by summer, he hopes to start hiring for hourly jobs.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sacramento at Fire Mountain is expected to be open by the end of 2019.
Past legal holdups
The tribe has been working to establish a casino in the region for the past 17 years, but lawsuits and other legal holdups have stood in the way throughout.
One lawsuit that held things up for years was over the tribe’s proposal for an “off-reservation” gaming facility, and the tribe’s land-into-trust application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Some of the biggest opponents of Enterprise Rancheria’s project have been regional competitors – the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians (Colusa Casino Resort) and the United Auburn Indian Community (Thunder Valley Casino).
A federal judge ultimately ruled in Enterprise Rancheria’s favor, but the process took time to iron out, ultimately delaying the project. Nelson said the tribe is ready to put those days behind them and move into the next phase.
“We stood for our sovereign rights as a tribe. We know that when you stand for truth, the truth always comes out; sometimes you just have to persevere,” she said.