Twin Arrows aims for fall opening for trucker plaza
For the past several years, Navajo gaming officials have been talking about building a travel center at Twin Arrows Navajo Resort and Casino. That dream will happen.
The Navajo Gaming Enterprise announced this week that the Navajo Blue Travel Center will open up in late fall adjacent to the casino. Designed to appeal to both truckers and travelers along Interstate 40, the plaza, which will be open 24/7, will feature premium restrooms, showers and laundry services open to the public.
The plaza will also provide an opportunity for the traveling public to experience the best of Navajo culture. “In addition to creating valuable jobs, Navajo Blue will allow guests of the Navajo Nation to experience certified Navajo arts and crafts as well as authentic Navajo food and beverage items,” said Brian Parrish, interim CEO of the Navajo Gaming Enterprise. Travelers will be able to purchase a variety of food items unique to the reservation, including Navajo Beef JerkyO, Navajo FizzO (soda pop), Navajo Blue Corn tamales and Navajo coffee.
The plaza cost $10 million, which Parrish said was funded through a Navajo tribal grant and loan. About 200 jobs were created during the construction period and, when opened, the center will provide 43 permanent jobs. All of this is part of the master plan by the gaming enterprise to attract truckers and travelers along Interstate 40 to take a break and stop at the casino. That effort began about two years ago when the enterprise expanded the parking lot and created a truckers’ lounge. Up to that time, few truckers stopped since the casino was about a mile off the interstate.
But this and other efforts, said Parrish, have paid off with between 100 and 150 truckers stopping by nightly. Once the plaza is up and running, Parrish expects that number to increase significantly. Even the design of the center reflects aspects of Navajo culture while at the same time showcasing the talents of Navajo artisans.
All of this, said Parrish, was built to welcome travelers to the gateway to the reservation and all of its scenic wonders. The plaza will also feature a fire pit to slow roast premium meat purchased from Navajo ranchers and will provide fresh jerky and brisket for travelers. Navajo vendors will also be on hand to sell arts and crafts.
The enterprise plans to advertise the new plaza through billboards and promotional material, all of which will direct travelers to its website, navajoblue.com, where visitors will learn what the plaza has to offer and will offer games with the chance to win free gasoline as well as other prizes.
With the completion of the plaza, the big question is: Where does the enterprise go from here? Is there another Navajo casino in the future? The simple answer to that is no one knows. Parrish said the enterprise is still reviewing its options. He pointed out that the compact with Arizona allows the tribe to build three more in the state while in New Mexico it has the option to build one more. The enterprise is still paying off a $200 million-plus loan from the tribe to build Twin Arrows so that may limit the enterprise’s options in the future.
At one time, plans were to build a small casino some 80 miles east of Twin Arrows at Navajo, Arizona. This one was planned to attract truckers coming from the west on Interstate 40 but with Twin Arrows now making a big effort to attract these same truckers, another casino along I-40 may no longer be feasible.
That leaves Antelope Point and Chinle, both of which have been considered as possible sites in the past. In fact, Antelope Point was near the top in the first assessment some 20 years ago but it was rejected after the LeChee Chapter voted against it. There have been reports that the chapter is now more favorable to the idea but there has been no indication that the enterprise is still seriously considering the idea.
As for Chinle, a small casino was almost built there some 15 years ago but the idea was abandoned when an agreement fell through. In New Mexico, the problem is where it can be built since every site that has been proposed would put it within 20 miles or so of a casino operated by another tribe. Parrish said the enterprise is looking at doing another feasibility study to determine what sites still have potential.