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  • High rollers

    Indian tribe buys, leases properties for Medford casino site
  • The Coquille Indian Tribe has acquired Roxy Ann Lanes and the former Kim's Restaurant in hopes of opening a Medford casino along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also has agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
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  • The Coquille Indian Tribe has acquired Roxy Ann Lanes and the former Kim's Restaurant in hopes of opening a Medford casino along South Pacific Highway. The tribe also has agreed to lease Bear Creek Golf Course, adjacent to the two buildings.
    Chief Kenneth Tanner said Thursday the Coquilles, based in North Bend, will officially announce their intentions today and are preparing to put the property into a U.S. government-held trust that would pave the way to reservation status.
    Once that process is completed, the Coquille Tribe would have jurisdiction, just as it does over the property where the Mill Casino stands on the North Bend waterfront.
    "In this particular case," Tanner said, "We wanted to keep it as quiet as possible and I think we were successful in doing that."
    Quiet enough that neither of the sellers apparently knew who was buying their property.
    The tribe closed the deals through intermediaries last month, first securing Roxy Ann Lanes for $1.6 million from John and Lela Larkin and then Kim's for $675,000 from the founders' heirs.
    The two properties total about 5 acres and the golf course is just more than 18 acres.
    John Larkin insisted Thursday that he knew nothing of the deal, even though Jackson County property records show both he and his wife signed off on the warranty deed Aug. 2.
    "We just got through re-striping the parking lot and buying new pins," Larkin said. "Why would I be selling?"
    But Tanner said it was a done deal.
    "Current management have agreed to manage the bowling alley," he said. "Nothing will really change with that property for the very least one year and probably two more."
    Tanner said the Coquille Tribe would buy the two properties without assistance or loans.
    "Over time, we save revenue up," he said. "We always place half of our revenue into a permanent fund. We've been thrifty in how we handle our finances."
    It will take a year or more to get the property put into trust, said Tanner, a former Jackson County mental health worker who has lived in Ashland since 1978. Tanner was first elected chief of the tribe in 1992 and has been re-elected every three years since.
    Following the federal restoration act of 1989, the Coquille tribal service area has included Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson and Lane counties. There are 1,000 tribe members, with most living in Coos County. Jackson County has the next-largest concentration with approximately 100 members.
    Tanner said the tribe's decision to open a Medford casino makes sense financially.
    "While the businesses we have are on the profitable side, they are barely meeting the needs of our people and we have to do something to sustain ourselves in the future," Tanner said. "We need to relocate some of our business here to meet the education, health and elder-care needs and for our general welfare."
    Tanner said the Medford site was attractive because it has "good location near the (Interstate 5) off-ramps, with good access."
    "We want to keep dollars in the local community," he said. "Commercial casinos' money goes to outside investors; we want to keep it inside the community."
    The chief said he has been in Washington, D.C., this week, meeting with Interior Department employees and "politicians" from Oregon.
    "There are two tracks to putting land in trust, legislative and administrative, and we do the latter," he said. "We've been informing and preparing them and we expect to deliver the application for trust within the next two weeks or so. Before that, we want to make sure we inform as many of the key people, including tribal. "
    The tribe's intermediaries kept their cards close to the vest as they purchased the local property.
    "They wouldn't tell us a thing as far as what they planned or who they were," said Tom Fischer of Coldwell Banker Commercial NW, who represented the Kim's owners. "They had the ability to assign a contract to somebody else and did that right before closing when they assigned it to an LLC (limited liability company)."
    In both property purchases, the paper trail led back to Carroll Companies, a development company in Portland that often does third-party work.
    "In this case, the part they would want to keep secret is that they were going after separate owners and wanted to keep it quiet," Fischer said. "That way they can keep somebody from deciding to hold out for a whole bunch of money — that's the typical reason for separate transactions."
    A former Portland attorney who now works out of Sisters, Lorie Harris Hancock, who worked on the Roxy Ann Lanes deal, referred questions to Coquille Tribe communications manager Ray Doering. Efforts were unsuccessful in reaching Grant Appleton, the owner of Pac West Group in Medford, where property taxes are forwarded for the Southern Oregon Property Holdings, the bowling center's purchaser of record.
    It takes a year, perhaps more depending on who you ask, for property to go into a federal trust and thereby qualify as reservation land. Once that part is done, then the tribe can begin work on remaking the present parcels into an adult playland. Getting a casino open could take two or three more years, Tanner said.
    The 53-year-old bowling center will be remodeled with part of the 23,312-square-foot building being converted into a gaming area, Tanner said. Neighboring Bear Creek Golf Course will be leased and the Kim's building will be leveled for parking.
    "We purchased a lease to the golf course, but don't own any part of the golf course," Tanner said. "We plan to keep both the golf course and bowling alley operating. Golf fits well with gaming."
    It was unclear what the lease arrangement for the golf course involves, but it wouldn't be part of the reservation.
    "You have to own the property for it to be in the trust," Tanner said.
    Marla Corbin, who operates Bear Creek Golf Course, declined comment Wednesday.
    Tanner said the casino would be good for the Medford area as well as the tribe.
    "We want to partner with local hotels, motels and businesses and join in the revitalization of the Medford area," Tanner said. "Medford is one of the last good markets remaining without a casino in Oregon. We're not trying to draw people from the north, but we want to make it interesting enough for them to come."
    Greg Norton, superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Siletz Agency, which oversees tribal activity in Western Oregon, said trust requests flow across his desk regularly and are passed on with his recommendation to the BIA Northwest regional office. During his 13-year tenure, Norton said, there have been no new Oregon lands approved for casino use, although the newest of the region's Indian gaming centers — Three Rivers Casino in Florence — had been previously approved.
    During the application process, environmental surveys are performed, government agencies are invited to weigh in and there are multiple public notices.
    "Each one is looked at, case by case, and some have been appealed," Norton said.
    Alida Gulley, a real estate specialist at the Northwest regional office of the BIA, said "there are all sorts of waiting periods built in, allowing local government, county or state appeals.
    "It's an extremely time-consuming process," she said. "Although some are faster than others."
    Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor said Thursday he was unaware of the Coquille Tribe's plans, and added he would wait for public sentiment to give him direction.
    "Indian casinos are successful wherever they go, even the little one by Smith River in Northern California has grown," Rachor said. "A lot of people complain about casinos, but people have a choice whether to go to them. One argument you always hear is that we'd be losing property taxes, but they'd be putting people to work so that's the plus side."
    The Mill Casino in North Bend employs 500 people, Tanner said.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.
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