San Diego Business Journal

Since many people are unaware that California was part of the Union during the Civil War, never mind the fact that it was far from the battlefields, they may wonder why San Diego, not someplace in the North, is home to the storied U.S. Grant Hotel. The answer is rather simple. Grant's son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., who lived here and built the hotel in 1910, named it in honor of the Union general-turned-president. But to the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, whom Grant assigned a reservation in the East County, acquiring the downtown hotel for $52 million in 2003 has deep roots in its own history.

Closed in December for a $54 million remodeling and renovation project, the hotel is scheduled to reopen Oct. 17.

Daniel Tucker, Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation's chairman, tells the San Diego Business Journal his thoughts about the hotel and other Sycuan business ventures.

Q: San Diego's hotels have been changing hands rapidly in the current booming tourism market. What is the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation's investment strategy with the U.S. Grant Hotel?

A: The U.S. Grant Hotel and its property comprise an asset that the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation has every intention of keeping. We feel it will be an appreciating asset for many, many years to come. Although our ancestors didn't practice personal ownership of land thousands of years ago, they understood the concept of superior location, which is why they settled downtown and on the site of the hotel. Our ancestors and elders use the term "for the next seven generations" to describe the remainder of time. So let's say that the Sycuan Tribal Development Corp. bought and renovated the property with the intent to keep it for the next seven generations, and the next seven generations and the next seven generations.

Q: The boom has also giving rise to many new hotels within the county and analysts are predicting that the market could become overbuilt within the next couple of years. Will this affect Sycuan's strategy of diversifying investments and interests from its casino operation?

A: Any business enterprise will be subject to cycles. But a predicted glut of hotel rooms in the region will not necessarily impact our Sycuan Resort and Casino, which combines the casino experience on our tribal lands and a golf-and-tennis resort experience on our El Cajon property, the former Singing Hills Country Club. For that matter, a general oversupply of hotel rooms won't necessarily impact the U.S. Grant Hotel, which has been renovated for a very specific luxury market niche.

Our involvement with JMI Realty as a partner in the development of the Hotel Solamar downtown was somewhat different , partnering in the creation of an urban redevelopment project rather than in long-term ownership and management. Our subsequent formation of Marina Gateway Co., in partnership with MRW Group and Latino Builders, is somewhat similar, as we will begin development of the six-acre Marina Gateway Plaza redevelopment project on Bay Marina Drive in National City. This redevelopment project will include a 173-room hotel, a large restaurant and 16,000 square feet of retail and office space.

As the fiduciary for all members of Sycuan, the directors of Sycuan Tribal Development Corp. are committed to prudent diversification. That is why we launched Sycuan Ringside Promotions, our recent entry into management and promotion of boxers and boxing events, which is part of the entertainment industry. That also is why we created Sycuan Capital Management, which is the first-ever tribal-owned investment adviser to enter the financial services industry. Its Sycuan U.S. Value Fund is the first in a series that Sycuan Capital Management will launch.

With prudent diversification, gaming eventually will become an important component of our income-generating enterprises rather than the core. Just as we have been working hard for state approval for ultimate expansion of our gaming operations, we always are vigilant to identify and evaluate other diversification opportunities.

Q: Your responsibility as Sycuan chairman is to ensure the financial security of the tribe's future generations. How do you plan to do that considering the county's uncertain economy?

A: Let me clarify this point. The nearly 80 men and women who are voting members of the Sycuan Band elect a chairman primarily to tend to the needs of the members. All members of the Sycuan Tribal Council and the Sycuan Tribal Development Corp. take our responsibilities to see to the financial security of current and future generations with the utmost seriousness, but this is one of many responsibilities. Health care, education, safety and security are just a few of our other responsibilities and are just as important.

We know that gaming has changed our lives, but we also know that the state or federal government theoretically could take gaming rights away from us tomorrow. That puts other uncertainties into perspective.

To fulfill our members' needs now and in the future, we must continue to diversify with wisdom and insight into market dynamics and economic cycles.

Q: Is Sycuan's younger generation being trained in management and decision-making involving its finances?

A: Yes. Our elders and leaders are determined that our younger members will learn and value our enterprises. Just as we are stewards for the younger generation today, we are also committed to helping them learn to be wise stewards "for the next seven generations."

, Connie Lewis