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Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Robert Valencia recently sat down with Inside Tucson Business to discuss the latest information regarding the tribe’s planned development near Grant Road and Interstate 10 in Tucson. 

Valencia discussed the tribe’s plan to transform the 14.38-acre lot that once housed the Century 16 movie theater into a commercial center. Valencia has overseen the tribe’s intergovernmental agreement with the Tucson City Council over the site as the tribe seeks to enter the plot into a Bureau of Land Management trust. Such a trust would enable the tribe to pursue a variety of economic ventures on the site, including a possible tribal casino. 

Take us through the tribe’s development at Grant Road and your vision for the property.

There are two parts to it. There’s the theater property on Grant Road that is primarily for economic development for the tribe. We’re looking at several prospects. We haven’t decided on one yet. And the other being the land into trust that we are taking in for the cultural ceremonial grounds, which is primarily for that purpose. So, on the business side, on where the theater is, we’re currently looking at several options and what would make the most sense to us.

What are some of the ideas you have for the properties?

At some point in time, if gaming was to be approved for that area, then that would be an interest. But as it is right now, our application for land into trust does not consider that option until sometime in the future. Primarily, we’re really interested in a business that would also lend itself to employ our members that are located there in Pascua. And so, we bought the land several years ago to try to create a sense of the local economy for that area, and also for those long term, to help the tribe diversify the enterprises that we currently have.

What does that plot of land near the old Yaqui Village mean to the tribe?

That means a lot of things. Tucson is rapidly shrinking, and this plot of land is pretty significant for our needs. In the very near future, I think we’ll be getting ready to announce what we’re going to do in general with properties, and with the property and the type of business development that we’re looking into. 

In order to do anything related to gaming here, the property needs to be put into a BLM trust. Can you take me through what exactly that process entails?

Essentially, it means that the land will be transferred to the U.S. government. And this site is off the reservation, but what we deemed to be important is the fact that our people lived there, well over a century in that area. And our ceremonial life centers around a piece of that land that we’re taking into trust, so it means a lot to us. Any land or land base that we add to the tribe is significant because it gives us new opportunities to do new things. We are going to be able to demonstrate how development takes place. You know, what does it take to get a business off the ground? And then talking about the return on investments and such. 

What excites you the most, as the chairman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, about the potential of this site?

What excites me the most is the fact that we’re now in a position to be able to move forward and begin to develop this land and begin to look at the needs of our people overall. It’s just when we get the first shovel in the ground, I know our people are going to react positively and so is the business community in general. So, it’s something that I look forward to the time that we actually have a groundbreaking of sorts, and we get in to look at all the planning that will be shared with the community in general. So, it’s, you know, again, we can talk to our youth and say, ‘Look, we need you to continue to work, to go to college, to come back, help us in to further this, these types of developments.’ So, it’s a tremendous opportunity for everyone.