For the last decade, residents in the city of Wood Village have watched the former Multnomah Greyhound Park fall into disrepair. But the site could soon be redeveloped.
Thousands of people once attended the park to watch dog racing and where proponents tried – twice – to build a non-tribal casino. Now the former park has a new owner.
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde say they have finalized the purchase of the 31 acres in east Multnomah County. The list price was $11.2 million.
The tribes aren’t sure what they will build on the site, but say it probably won’t be a casino.
“We’re interested in the property because we’re always looking for lands within our seated lands … I should say within our aboriginal homelands,” said Jan Reibach, the tribal lands manager for the Grand Ronde.
The tribes’ newly purchased property is part of a 100-acre development the city of Wood Village calls the Town Center. Right now, about half of it is developed with big box stores like Fred Meyer and Lowes, and restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings.
The city is exploring what it wants built on the other half – including on the property now owned by the Grand Ronde.
Right now, Reibach said, the tribes are doing their own economic analysis on the property.
“We haven’t really identified a use,” he said. “We’re keeping all of the options open for commercial, and retail, and possibly entertainment and other things.”
Not long ago, private developers proposed a casino for the same 31 acres the tribe now owns. But Oregon voters shot down that idea in two ballot initiatives first in 2010 and again in 2012.
The Grand Ronde fought both measures hard, because they posed a financial threat to their Spirit Mountain Casino west of Salem.
Tribal officials said they’re not planning to build a casino in Wood Village. But they’re not ruling it out either.
“Everything is still on the table at this point, but that’s not an immediate project or anything like that,” said Rob Green, the Grand Ronde’s attorney. “Anything we do we’re going to work with the local governments here.”
“The potential is for them to also explore gaming as another way to increase revenues for the tribe,” said Lake Oswego attorney Matt Rossman, one of the backers of the private casino initiatives voters denied.
The proposed Cowlitz casino in La Center, Washington, – less than 20 miles from Portland – poses a threat to the Grand Ronde’s existing casino, Rossman said.
“If the Cowlitz casino is built, it’s anticipated from studies we’ve seen that the Grand Ronde Tribe is going to run the risk of losing approximately 40 percent of their gaming revenues,” he said.
The Cowlitz casino has been tied up in lawsuits for years.
Last December, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the Cowlitz. But the Grand Ronde appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Despite the on going legal battle, Cowlitz tribal officials announced this month they plan to open their casino sometime in 2017.
Rossman argues if they do, the Grand Ronde will have little choice in Wood Village.
“One option may very well be the need to develop gaming on that site to be able to compete with the Cowlitz casino,” Rossman said.
But Green, the Grand Ronde’s attorney, said the land purchase is part of a larger plan to diversify assets.
“Just like you and I have 401Ks, and we diversify within that, the tribe does the same thing,” Green said.
The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde own a shopping center in Salem and an office building in Portland. They also took part in a development in Portland’s Pearl District.
Anton Treuer, a professor in the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, said the Grand Ronde are doing what many tribes have already done.
“Some tribes, quite famously, like the Seminole Tribe in Florida, own the Hard Rock Café enterprise world wide,” Treuer said. “(They) have a diversified array of about 30 major businesses.”
In Minnesota, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe own two of the largest hotels in the state.
Treuer said all are examples of tribes investing casino revenues into larger business interests.
“Ever since the early 2000s some of those casino revenues have flattened out and in some places actually declined, especially with the Great Recession in 2008,” he said. “That business hasn’t really bounced back to the level it was at before.”
The Grand Ronde acknowledge the future of casino gaming revenues is far from certain. All the more reason, they say, to diversify.