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Tejon tribe chooses firms to guide hotel-casino project

Casino rendering

A rendering of the casino proposed by the Tejon Indian Tribe and its development partner, Hard Rock International.

The $600 million casino and hotel proposed near Highway 99 south of Bakersfield took another step forward Monday with the announcement of the project's design and construction team, all three members of which have experience with gaming and hospitality facilities.

The Tejon Indian Tribe said in a news release Los Angeles-based The PENTA Building Group will serve as general contractor while Klai Juba Wald, based in Las Vegas, will be the primary architect. Friedmutter Group Architecture & Interior Design Studios, also based in Las Vegas, was chosen as the design architect and interior designer.

The announcement came a little more than six months after the federal government signed off on a critical component of the hotel-casino project. It is tentatively expected to begin construction within a year and take 18 months to complete, assuming California's governor gives it a green light within the next 5½ months or so.

Since the tribe received federal recognition in 2012, it has partnered with Hard Rock International to help it develop and run the casino-hotel, which is expected to include a 166,500-square-foot gaming floor and an 11-story hotel with 400 rooms. Plans also call for a convention space, event center, restaurants and RV park at the project site in Mettler.

Monday's release did not identify all the companies that will help with construction, but it suggested the job will be handled at least in part by unionized construction workers living in Kern County.

"Rest assured local subcontractors, suppliers, vendors, local building trades and organized labor will be part of the construction of our project," Tejon Tribe Chairman Octavio Escobedo stated in the release.

A senior Kern County labor official said Monday he was "very hopeful" the project will be union-built, based on statements the tribe made early on. He added that any such agreement would be contained in a project labor agreement expected to be initiated by the general contractor.

"We're hopeful that they will use our local contractors and therefore use our local people," said John Spaulding, executive secretary of the Kern, Inyo and Mono Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. "We'll keep this money local."

The casino-hotel has been embraced by Kern County government and the local business community since being formally proposed years ago.

The tribe plans to build the project on 52 acres of a 306-acre parcel the tribe owns northwest of South Sabodan and Wild Flower streets. The property would also become home to administrative offices, a health-care facility, housing and a joint sheriff and fire station.

Construction-related employment is estimated at about 900 jobs. More than 2,000 people are expected to work at the site permanently, said the project manager for Hard Rock, Scott Neilson.

Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney signed a record of decision Jan. 8 finding the proposed site is suitable for the tribe’s plans. California's governor has a year from the signing of that document to decide whether to concur with the federal action and, if he does, to also sign an agreement with the tribe specifying how the casino would be operated.

"We hope it doesn't take a year," Neilson said, adding that the tribe is going over designs and budgets in the meantime while also looking for financing. "Those processes are running parallel."

Escobedo noted PENTA has built gaming and hospitality projects worth more than $8 billion and noted the company has extensive experience working with tribes and has "deep knowledge of the local and regional subcontractors and building trades we will need to build our project."

PENTA President John Cannito said in the same release that large-scale hotel and casino projects such as the Tejon Indian Tribe's are a "core competency" for the company, and that the firm looks forward to delivering a "world-class property we will all take pride in."

Escobedo stated Klai Juba Wald has designed some of the most beautiful and iconic projects in the hospitality industry and that the tribe looks forward to working with the firm, which added in the release that it has a longstanding relationship with Hard Rock International.

The Friedmutter Group, a design, architectural and master-planning firm, specializes in large, multi-use hospitality, casino, entertainment, retail and high-rise hotels and condominiums.

Escobedo described the project's benefits in terms of a boost for the tribe's economic self-sufficiency and social justice as well as jobs he said would bolster Kern County's economy.

"Thousands of permanent jobs and millions of dollars spent with local vendors will continue to enhance the local economy for years to come," he stated.