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Grand Canyon development divides builder, Navajo

There's tension in Northern Arizona over a proposed tourist attraction on the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon.

"It's a 420-acre development," said Lamar Whitmer of Confluence Partners, L.L.C., the company that would develop the Grand Canyon Escalade. "The primary will be a gondola tram that will take visitors from the rim of the canyon to the canyon floor."

The project will also include a walkway and food pavilion at the bottom of the canyon, and hotels, restaurants (including fast food) and an R.V. park on the canyon rim.

The proposed project is near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, but it's a problem for Navajos.

"The medicine men do their prayers at the edge where the confluence is, where the waters overlap. It's sacred to them," said Franklin Martin of the group Save the Confluence.

The group's Leonard Sloan said that there are things that "you can't sacrifice," and this area of the Grand Canyon is one of them.

"People who have never been out here have never seen the view from the canyon, what it means," he said. "They've never seen it. That's why they want to get rid of it."

Sloan called the developers "greedy" and "money hungry people."

"They want to take it," he said. "That's stupid."

But Whitmer contends that it's the Navajo Nation that will get the economic boost from Escalade.

"At build-out, we anticipate 2,000 direct jobs, and there will be a spinoff benefit of another 1,500 jobs," he said. "The Navajo Nation will receive substantial revenue off of this."

Whitmer estimated the economic boost to be around $160 million per year.

As for the project interfering with a "sacred" place, Whitmer said Escalante will have no access to the confluence of the rivers and will about three football fields away from it. He believes that this is no different than the area around Canyon de Chelly, where there has been development near a site that is also considered sacred.

Whitmer said his company is willing to work with the Navajos to address their concerns.

Confluence Partners hopes to have Grand Canyon Escalade operating by 2016.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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