LA CENTER, WA-The La Center City Council has tabled a memorandum of understanding with the Cowlitz tribe regarding the operation of a proposed $510-million casino hotel-complex here that would sit next to Interstate 5. The 152-acre development site is located 26 miles north of Downtown Portland; if built, the planned 877,000-sf complex would be by far the closet to the city.

The tabling of the cooperation agreement between the tribe and the city was a unanimous decision. The council is awaiting an update to a 2004 study that predicted a casino would hurt the city’s card rooms. The card rooms generated $3.7 million for the city in 2005; the study says those revenues could decline by more than 60% if a large casino opens in the area.

The MOU is in part about providing the city some security in that regard. The MOU proposes to guarantee the city up to $3 million annually for 10 years to offset any loss in revenue. Drafted by the tribe, the agreement states that the guarantee would be reduced should one or more of the cardrooms go out of business.

The next stage of the process is a draft environmental impact statement that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to release in the next 30- to 60 days. The study is being prepared by a Sacramento-based company for BIA. A preliminary draft of the document indicated plans for a 134,150-sf casino, a 250-room hotel in an eight-story building and nearly 200,000 sf of restaurants, bars, retail shops and entertainment venues. The development would create 3,151 jobs–1,000 more than La Center’s total population–to become Clark County’s largest employer, according to the preliminary data.

The Cowlitz Tribe submitted its application to place the property in federal trust in March 2004. Placing land in federal trust exempts it from state and local taxes and local land use regulations and gives the tribe the right to have a gaming component on the property.

This is the second time around the process for the Cowlitz Tribe, which keeps its headquarters in Longview, WA, about 40 miles north of the Oregon-Washington border. It withdrew its initial application, filed in March 2002, after the BIA’s central office informed them that the application would not be accepted if the application didn’t make clear that a casino was an option and include an environmental assessment.

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