Progress seems stalled on the Spirit Sands Casino complex, shown here in an artist’s conception. The $40-million casino development near Carberry — since downsized to $11 million — was originally supposed to open last year.
It may have a new manager at the helm, but delays may still be plaguing construction of the recently scaled down Spirit Sands Casino development near Carberry.
The Spirit Sands Casino project has been in the works for years, and was originally supposed to open in 2012. Construction has not yet begun. This photo was taken at the sod-turning in 2010, with Gaming Minister Dave Chomiak at the podium. (FILE)
In an interview with the Sun last May, Carberry Mayor Wayne Blair said that in discussions with the Swan Lake First Nation — which has leased land to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to build the facility — the casino would need to be connected to the grid via a two-phase Hydro line, and that trees had already been bulldozed to construct the lines.
But as of yesterday afternoon, site plans for the casino had not been handed over to Manitoba Hydro for the Crown corporation to plan and construct power lines to the site.
"We’re still waiting for site plans from them, and some indication of what the load might be," Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider told the Sun yesterday. "We need that to plan the line going into the facility."
Before any power lines can be installed, Hydro requires significant time to plan construction of the lines, a process that can take weeks, months or even years, depending on the projected power needs.
"It really depends, there’s a lot of variables here," Schneider said.
For residential builds found near an adjacent service, planning can take a couple of weeks. For a new residential development, where extensive work is required, it can take months for Hydro to plan and work with the developer.
"With an industrial or a commercial customer, the same kind of thing would apply — how close are they? What’s their anticipated load going to be, where are they physically located? It can be a couple of years in some cases if it’s a really large customer," Schneider said.
Last October, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak announced that Hemisphere Gaming Inc. had signed an agreement to develop and manage the much-delayed Spirit Sands project.
Under a 10-year deal, Hemisphere Gaming agreed to finance, develop and manage the Spirit Sands project on leased reserve land owned by Swan Lake First Nation. Initial construction of the $11-million project — the original casino design called for a $40-million facility — was slated to begin early this spring, with completion expected toward the end of the year.
RM of South Cypress Reeve Earl Malyon said the AMC stuck to that timeline last month, when Spirit Sands representatives met with the RMs of Glenboro-Carberry, North Cypress and South Cypress.
"They gave their projections," Malyon told the Sun. "They said they are going ahead. They’re supposed to be up by next Christmas."
As part of its ongoing investigation, the Sun recently learned that until late last year, C.W. Driver, a general contracting company from Pasadena, Calif., had been chosen to build Spirit Sands. The company has been involved with several U.S.-based aboriginal casino projects, including a multimillion-dollar gaming and casino project recently announced in Cabazon, Calif.
When reached by the Sun this week, C.W. Driver spokeswoman Jennifer Vasquez said the company no longer has a contract to build Spirit Sands.
"It’s no longer correct," Vasquez said. "We are not moving forward with the project."
When asked when the contract had been terminated, Vasquez had few answers.
"I don’t know an exact date, but I would say late last year. I don’t know if the funding is secure (for Spirit Sands) or whether they’re moving forward with the project at all."
She also offered no explanation as to the contract’s termination, "at least not a reason they would like to disclose," she said.
C.W. Driver was listed as a member of a development team in a recent bid by Sonnenblick Development, LLC to build a large resort in Newport Beach, Calif. As part of the bid package, dated Nov. 20, 2012, C.W. Driver was listed as the general contractor for several developments, "including but not limited to the Disney Grand Californian Hotel expansion; Laguna Cliffs Marriott Hotel expansion; and Swan Lake First Nation Spirit Sands Casino and Resort."
The Spirit Sands Casino project has been in the works for at least three years and was originally supposed to open in 2012 following a ground-breaking ceremony in 2010. But construction never began. The project had been facing financial difficulties until the AMC’s announcement last October.
According to the original agreement with the AMC, Red Lake Gaming Enterprises — a Minnesota-based tribal casino operating company owned and operated by Red Lake Nation — was not only to manage and operate the Spirit Sands Casino, but was also expected to secure financing for the project, something the company was unable to do.
Though reached by the Sun yesterday, the AMC did not offer any comment by press time.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 6, 2013