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Originally published Tuesday, January 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Casino Snoqualmie to break ground

After years of delays and financial setbacks, the Snoqualmie Tribe will break ground Feb. 26 on its casino project near North Bend, tribal...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

After years of delays and financial setbacks, the Snoqualmie Tribe will break ground Feb. 26 on its casino project near North Bend, tribal officials said Monday.

Casino Snoqualmie is expected to open by Nov. 1 of next year and will be the closest tribal-gaming center to Seattle.

"It will be a world-class place," said Matt Mattson, tribal administrator.

This week, tribal officials closed on $330 million in financing to get the project going, underwritten by Bear Stearns, a global investment bank and securities trading and brokerage firm.

Mattson said he believes it is the largest bond offering to date in the history of tribal gaming.

The 165,000-square foot, mountain-style lodge casino will include a 1,000-seat event center, five restaurants, a cigar lounge and wine bar. It will be built on a 56-acre woodsy, secluded site off of Interstate 90 and just outside the city of Snoqualmie.

The tribe had originally planned to break ground last year. But last summer, the tribe was dealt a major setback when its development partner of five years, Arizona-based MGU Development, LLC, unexpectedly backed out of the project.

The partnership dissolved weeks after the tribe's application won approval from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to put the land into trust, after a five-year wait. After the deal with MGU soured, the company still held possession of the one thing the tribe needed most to build a casino: title to the future casino site.

Without tribal ownership, the land could not move into federal trust or become tribal reservation territory. The tribe could not build a casino on the parcel otherwise.

So the tribe sought out an $85.5 million bridge loan in October from a New York investment company. That money was used to buy out MGU and pay the company $50.8 million for the site. MGU had paid $3.8 million for it in 2003.

Now, tribal officials say, they're looking forward to operating the casino independently.

A "large chunk" of the $330 million will be used to pay off the bridge loan, Mattson added, and more than $100 million will fund construction costs. Two years' worth of interest payment on the debt will sit in escrow, and the rest will be available as a reserve if the tribe needs additional funds to dip into, he said.

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Officials say they're confident the casino will be a success and better the lives of the 650-member tribe, 42 percent of whom are unemployed. Chief Jerry Enick called the deal's closure "a proud day" in the tribe's history.

Mattson said the priority is to diversify the tribe's economic base and invest money into health care and housing. Unlike how other tribes with casinos operate, there will be no per-person disbursement for at least two years after the casino opens, he said.

The tribe plans to hire more than 800 to work at the casino.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com

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