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Mescalero Tribal Council OKs $200 Million for Inn

By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
    MESCALERO— The Mescalero Tribal Council on Tuesday approved the largest bond issue in the tribe's history— a $200 million package needed to complete construction of a bigger, more lavish Inn of the Mountain Gods and Casino Apache resort.
    Last Friday and again on Monday, a skittish eight-member council voted to postpone a vote on the bond issue as it struggled to digest about 400 pages of financial information that some councilors had only received late Thursday night.
    ''I was overwhelmed at the thought that they expected me to have a decision in the morning (Friday),'' said Council member Glenda Brusuelas. ''That was very unfair.''
    In another sign of some councilors' frustration with the hurried way the package was presented, the Tribal Council voted 6 to 2 Monday to fire the tribe's attorney, Greg Quinlan of Alamogordo.
    A group of skeptical Tribal Council members sought advice from another Alamogordo attorney late into the night Monday as they struggled with their decision.
    Thomas Gallagher, chief executive officer of the Mescalero Apache tribal enterprises, said the possibility that lenders might change their minds on financing the project created pressure to act quickly on the bond issue.
    But Gallagher praised council members who had delayed their decision for having ''the courage to say 'no,' " adding, "We are going to take the time to review it and exercise due diligence.''
    The $200 million in bonds, which will be sold initially to Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. at a 12 percent interest rate, mature Nov. 15, 2010, when the debt must be paid off in its entirety.
    The bonds will be paid with revenues from the new inn, casino, Travel Center and skiing operations.
    The old Inn of the Mountain Gods, which was demolished in January, is being replaced by a $135 million resort designed and built by Centex/WorthGroup.
    According to financial documents, Centex has completed about $38 million worth of work so far, and the tribe needs the bond issue in part to cover the remaining $96.8 million in construction costs.
    The funding package also calls for placing $35 million into a reserve account to cover the amount of revenue-sharing payments the state says it is owed by the tribe.
    The tribe is currently in a legal fight with the state over revenue-sharing terms contained in 1997 and 2001 gaming compacts.
    The new inn is part of a massive two-stage project aimed at enhancing the tribe's financial footing and gambling presence. Phase one was completed on U.S. 70 in May— the new Casino Apache Travel Center that boasts 503 slot machines and 13 table games.
    The inn, expected to be completed in April 2005, will be a 211-room luxury hotel enclosing a new casino with 1,000 slot machines and a 37,000-square-foot events center.
    Tribal President Sara Misquez, who is opposed by Mark Chino in the Nov. 4 election, declined to comment on the bond issue Tuesday. The council is scheduled to hold a general meeting for all tribal members Friday morning.