ELK GROVE -- Members of Wilton Rancheria announced Tuesday that their controversial casino resort project is back on track after attempts to derail it by competing gambling interests.
Tribal chair Raymond Hitchcock told an invited audience that the Department of Interior has placed the 36 acres the tribe purchased from the Howard Hughes Corporation in a trust for the tribe.
The site is one-third of what's been dubbed the "ghost mall," a partially built retail complex that has stood as a testament to the great recession a decade ago.
"We are now the proud owners of a bankrupt outlet mall," joked Hitchcock.
The casino project was the target of card room interests, which mounted a campaign warning of crime, traffic pollution and proximity to schools.
"I don't think it's family oriented, I think it's a bad location, I think they can find a better location for a casino," said Elk Grove resident Caroline Soares, who lives nearby and attended the announcement.
Supporters of the project, including two former Elk Grove mayors, said the claims were false.
"This is going to inject money into the economy, so it's good for Elk Grove and it's good for the south county of Sacramento," said former Mayor and current Assembly Member Jim Cooper.
The city has already made an agreement with the tribe in which the city will receive more than $132 million over 20 years to pay for police and other services, along with funding roads and infrastructure.
The project will also fund services for some of the 750 tribal members, many of whom live in poverty.
Still nearly 15,000 residents signed a somewhat misleading petition seeking to void the purchase of the property by the tribe. The city council last week voted to let the deal stand. The land transfer by the feds made the issue moot.
"It becomes sovereign land and the city's authority over that no longer exists," said Elk Grove Public Affairs Manager Kristyn Nelson.
The tribe must now negotiate a casino compact with the governor, which must be ratified by the legislature.
Tribal leaders say there other hurdles to overcome and that the completion of the casino resort is three to five years away.