While most people visit the Grand Canyon to experience one of the natural wonders of the world, visitors may soon be surprised to find a $1 billion entertainment complex, which will include an IMAX theater, mall and restaurants, inside of the East Rim of the canyon. Developers are working on plans to build the mega complex, called the Grand Canyon Escalade, in the canyon with the help of the Navajo Nation.
NBC News reports that a developer group called Confluence Partners wants to create a place for the more than 5 million annual Grand Canyon visitors to converge on the East Rim of the park. A new 420-acre attraction costing $1 billion is in the planning phase which would provide tourists a variety of amenities within the canyon itself.
“Their plans for the canyon’s rim include a multimedia complex with an IMAX theater, retail shops, hotels, an RV park and a gondola tram that would take visitors 1.6 miles to the canyon floor in ten minutes. Confluence Partners has also drawn up plans for a ‘Riverwalk’ on the canyon floor that would include elevated connected walkways, a food pavilion, a tramway station, a terraced seating area and a wastewater package plant.”
The project is planned to be built on land owned by the Navajo Nation as they took over leasing rights from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This means that the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal National Parks will have no say in the construction of the project. Instead, the Navajo Nation will give final approval on whether or not the project can be built inside one of America’s most well-known natural wonders.
It seems that the Navajo Nation is on board with the plan as the Navajo-Hopi Observer reports that the tribe plans to “pay for the off sites, meaning they will lease the property to the Navajo Hospitality Enterprise. The Escalade project has a development agreement with the Hospitality Enterprise which will be titled to the Navajo Nation. The Escalade development will have a 50 year operating agreement.”
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly says he plans to green light the project in hopes of creating economic stability for his people.
“I come here and I look from that view as the President, as the guardian of the Navajo people and our nation… and say, ‘what can I give to my families and my people?’ The only conclusion I got from that is that they need jobs, they need homes. They need good homes. They need better education. They need to get involved in a lot and create business.”
However, Renae Yellowhorse, a Navajo tribe member, says the land is a place of great significance to the Navajo people and is called called “the confluence.” This is the area where the Colorado River meets the Little Colorado River on the canyon’s east side. According to the Navajo creation story, “the confluence” is where their people first emerged.
“It is my church, it is where I say my prayers. It is where I give my offerings. It’s where I commune with the holy ones, the gods that walk along the canyon. We are for economic development. Just not here at this place.”
Some members of the Hopi tribe who own land near the development are also concerned about the potential of a commercialized complex at the site. Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, Director for the Hopi Tribe’s Cultural Preservation Office, says the landscape is part of the heart of the Hopi people and would be ruined by the development.
“In many respects, it’s a landscape that is really ingrained in our hearts as Hopi people.”
What do you think about the prospect of an entertainment complex inside of the Grand Canyon? Should the Navajo Nation be able to give a final green light for a project that would affect the overall look of a national park such as the Grand Canyon?
[Image Credit: Getty Images/ John Moore]