Tribal Council Votes to Take Over Skywalk
Tourists take in views of the Grand Canyon from the Skywalk in this file photo from April, 2011.
Jude Joffe-Block
February 09, 2012

LAS VEGAS -- Management of the Skywalk, a tourist destination on the Grand Canyon's western rim, is changing hands. A Northern Arizona Native American Tribe has announced it will use its power of eminent domain to take over the attraction from the developer who financed and managed it.

Las Vegas developer David Jin invested $30 million to build a horseshoe-shaped, glass walkway that stretched from Hualapai tribal land over the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk, which opened in 2007, allows tourists to see stunning views of the canyon from above.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year. Each pay about $29.99 to walk on the glass bridge.

Under the original agreement, Jin's corporation would manage the attraction for 25 years and share profits with a Hualapai tribal corporation. But the two parties have been engaged in a long-standing dispute, with each saying the other is violating the agreement.

Jin says he has not received the profits he is owed, while tribal council members complain that the visitor center adjacent to the Skywalk remains unfinished. To date, the building is an eye-sore without running water, electricity or bathrooms.

The tribal council voted on Tuesday night to use eminent domain to terminate Jin's contract to manage the Skywalk. The Tribe's spokesman, Dave Cieslak, said Jin will get fair compensation.

"The Tribe did not want litigation, that is not the Hualapi way," Cieslak said. "They've spent years negotiating with Jin, but he refuses to make even basic concessions and complete the work he promised."

Meanwhile, Jin insists the Tribe has deprived him of millions of dollars.

In a statement, Jin's lawyer, Mark Tratos, called the Tribe's use of eminent domain a "desperate attempt to avoid paying Mr. Jin the millions of dollars in management fees he is presently owed and break his 25-year management contract."

According to Tratos, an arbitrator recently ordered the Tribe to turn in financial documents. Tratos claims the council members are using eminent domain to terminate the contract rather than comply with arbitration and make their records public.

A renewed legal fight could be ahead.