Indio Empire for Fantasy Springs Resort, a top executive vowed last week.

“Fantasy Springs Casino is no MGM Grand or Bellagio,” but it appeals to Californians who don’t want to spend a lot of money, Chief Executive Officer James McKennon said.

“The area is growing and the casino plans to grow with it. Coachella Valley permitted 20,000 new homes in 2004,” he said.

Fantasy Springs plans to add a 300- to 400-room hotel by 2010.

Offices are in the offing. Resort plans include a shopping mall, timeshares, an 18-hole golf course, a day spa and cultural center.

The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, with 30 members, employs 1,250 workers at Fantasy Springs Casino.

Fantasy Springs was negotiating with Starbucks Coffee Co. in Seattle Jan. 31. The casino will house Starbuck’s first Native American coffee franchise, said Kevin Williams, director of hotel operations and sales.

“We just heard the voicemail today that confirmed Starbucks will come here,” he said Jan. 31.The Starbucks is slated to open in April.

Fantasy Springs Jan. 13 opened a 12-story, 251-room hotel and a 100,000-square-foot special events center; and added 44 slot machines to max out at 2,000 under its state compact.

The casino added a 24-hour café, buffet and a steakhouse. The casino boasts a 24-lane bowling alley built in 1999.

The events center is designed to handle up to 4,000 people for trade shows, meetings and banquets, Williams said. Meeting rooms are equipped with wireless technology and presentation equipment.

The events center is booked for May with corporate events. More than 15,000 people visited the casino Jan. 14–23 to see “Balagan,” a Cirque du Soleil-style show.

“Any new product brings new appeal to the area,” said Jane Brady, Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority director of tourism. “The casino brings a different aspect to the areas usual attractions such as golf and tennis. [Fantasy Springs] is a destination because of its entertainment center and hotel. They can go after larger groups now.”

But as part of a deal with the county of Riverside, Fantasy Springs Casino will impose a visitors fee on hotel customers, McKennon said.

The county in 2003 agreed to administer a $145 million tax-exempt bond for the construction of the hotel, convention center and parking garage.

In exchange, the tribe paid the city of Coachella $3.4 million for road enhancements at Vista Villa North in Coachella. The tribe also agreed to pay $20 million over 18 years to the county of Riverside with funds generated by a visitors fee levied on hotel guests. The visitors fee is similar to the transient occupancy tax hotels charge guests.

The transient occupancy tax is levied on tourists who stay at a hotel for 30 days or less. In Riverside County the tax is about 10 percent and the casino’s visitors fee is about the same. The visitor’s fee won’t deter business, Cabazon spokeswoman Nancy Conrad said. “The tribe wanted to level the playing field with other hotels not on the reservation because we want to work collectively with local government, keep up good relations and keep competition fair.”

“We’re here and we’re not going anywhere. We’re not like most businesses where we can just pick up and leave. We need to help the county of Riverside as much as they need to help us.”

Fantasy Springs attracts most of its customers from California, Williams said. The casino generated $28 million in economic impact for the Coachella Valley. That number will increase to $180 million by 2007 because of the expansion, Conrad said.


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