Construction continues on KCK tribal casino 5-22-07

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Work on a tribal casino in downtown Kansas City is proceeding and is expected to be complete by September.

The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma is renovating a former Masonic lodge as a new home for the casino, which was briefly operated out of a series of mobile homes before being shut down by state officials in 2004.

A federal judge later determined the raids, led by then-Attorney General Phill Kline's office and local law enforcement, were illegal.

Work on the building, which was started years ago and stopped because of litigation, began again in March.

Details about the proposed casino are sketchy and officials with the tribe didn't immediately return phone calls from the Associated Press for comment Tuesday.

Mark Stark, a job superintendent for Crossland Construction Co. Inc., confirmed to The Kansas City Star that his crew was building a casino in the historic structure across the street from City Hall.

Stark said builders planned to finish their work by September, but deferred other questions to tribe officials.

Construction plans on Stark's desk referred to the “Wyandotte Palace Casino.” They call for two new wings on the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, and an elevator shaft.

Kansas officials in charge of historic preservation said they were not aware of the tribe asking permission to modify the building, which is typically required. But they also said pending litigation and the rules covering tribal property may make such permission unnecessary.

“We're all aware they've started construction, but there's nothing we can do,” said Patrick Zollner, deputy state historic preservation officer.

Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said the government is working with the tribe, which has agreed to follow city building and safety codes. Taylor said both sides also are negotiating to provide utilities, public safety and other city services.

It's a change for the Unified Government, which opposed the casino for years. Taylor added, however, that the government lacks the ability to intervene if there's a dispute.

The casino's fate is far from certain. Chief Leaford Bearskin said in March that the tribe still was awaiting a ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge from Kansas officials and Indian tribes that already operate casinos in Kansas.

The challenge is centered on a decision of the National Indian Gaming Commission, reached before the 2004 raids, that the half-acre tract, purchased in 1996, was not qualified for a casino under federal rules prohibiting tribal casinos on land purchased after 1988.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled the casino fit through a loophole in those rules because the tribe had bought the land with money it received through an Indian claims court proceeding.

But state and tribal officials appealed the decision. A three-judge panel in Denver heard oral arguments earlier this month and could issue a ruling at any time.