Tesuque Pueblo plans casino next to opera

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Tesuque Pueblo announced plans Wednesday to build a casino, and later a hotel, on vacant tribal land adjacent to The Santa Fe Opera, just off U.S. 84/285 north of the city.

The pueblo's plans not only will put a casino on Santa Fe's doorstep, but a resort next to one of the city's most famous cultural attractions.

Unknown is what effect -- if any -- traffic, noise and light from the development will have on the open-air, summertime opera, where the night sky seen from the hilltop theater is as much a part of the experience as the arias.

"Our concern is simply preserving the unique setting of the opera," the opera's general director, Charles MacKay, said Wednesday. "We treasure the acoustics of the opera and the sightlines from the theater."

MacKay said opera management has expressed its concerns to Tesuque Pueblo officials and their representatives in discussions over the past year about the tribe's plans for development on the land formerly used for a flea market.

It is "certainly possible" that a casino and hotel can be built while addressing the opera's concerns, MacKay said.

"It depends on the specifics of the project, which we really don't know at this point," he said. "We support their interest in economic development ... and hope there are ways to collaborate."

Tesuque Pueblo announced its plan for the casino and hotel in a two-paragraph news release that didn't address the issue of any impact on The Santa Fe Opera.

Pueblo Gov. Mark Mitchell and John Kubiak, chairman of the Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp., didn't respond to requests for interviews for this story.

Kubiak told the Albuquerque Journal, however, that the pueblo wants to be good neighbors with the opera.

The first phase of development calls for a casino with 750 slot machines and table games, as well as food and beverage venues, according to the pueblo's news release.

Future phases call for the addition of a hotel and other resort amenities, the pueblo said.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for next month, with the casino opening anticipated in the fall of 2018.

"The Pueblo of Tesuque envisions our new casino will be timeless, inviting, and unlike any other casino in New Mexico," the pueblo said in the news release. "This development will bring fresh energy to our gaming operations with a unique look and modern amenities, all within close proximity to the Santa Fe community."

The pueblo said the architectural firm of Dekker/Perich/Sabati­ni, Bradbury Stamm Construction, and the engineering firms of Bohannan Huston and Souder Miller & Associates -- all New Mexico companies -- are participating in the development.

The pueblo didn't release details about the size and design of the planned casino and hotel, their siting on the land, the cost of the development or how it will be financed. It also didn't say what will become of its Camel Rock Casino, which the pueblo has operated for more than 20 years just off U.S. 84/285, about 10 miles north of the opera.

Kubiak told the Journal that Camel Rock will be closed. He said it's cheaper to build a casino than to refurbish Camel Rock.

The New Mexican reported Sunday that Camel Rock hasn't been able to financially bounce back from the opening in 2008 of the much larger Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino at Pojoaque Pueblo.

In 2016, Camel Rock's net win from its slot machines fell to $19.4 million, the casino's worst showing in at least 14 years, according to data from the New Mexico Gaming Control Board. Slot revenues have bounced back some, up about $1 million in the first nine months of 2017 when compared to the same period in 2016.

Tesuque Pueblo has a population of about 265, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

Simon Brackley, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said Tesuque Pueblo's new casino will bring jobs and visitors to the city. "Overall, it will be a gain," Brackley said.

He said he believes Tesuque Pueblo and The Santa Fe Opera will be able to work together to address the opera's concerns.

"I think they can respect each other as neighbors," he said.

Randy Randall, executive director of the city's tourism agency, said he would welcome the addition of a well-done resort to the area.

"I hope they are sensitive to the opera being there," he said. "That can be done if they choose to."

Tesuque Pueblo is one of 14 tribes in New Mexico that operate casinos under compacts, or agreements, with the state. As part of the compacts, the tribes share some slot revenue with the state.

Tesuque Pueblo's announcement of a new casino comes at an uncertain economic time for tribal gaming.

State economists are projecting modest growth in the industry in New Mexico over the next five years.

There also is the possibility of some contraction in the industry because of a lack of growth in both the state population and the personal income of New Mexicans, according to one economist.

Contact Thom Cole at tcole@sfnewmexican.c­om or 505-986-3022.

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