Law Article: Hualapai Tribe in dispute over tourism business

Attorney recaps dispute over the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a popular tourist attraction owned by the Hualapai Tribe of Arizona:
The Grand Canyon Skywalk was the vision of David Jin, a tourism entrepreneur who had been operating a van service to the canyon. Jin founded Grand Canyon Skywalk Development ("GCSD") and began working with a Hualapai tribal corporation, 'Sa' Nyu Wa Inc. ("SNW"), in 2003. According to a development agreement, GCSD and SNW would share revenue from tickets and merchandise equally. The Grand Canyon Skywalk opened in 2007 and was a huge success. In addition to generating revenue through ticket sales, the Skywalk's opening brought more visitors to Grand Canyon West and significantly increased revenues to Hualapai Ranch.

Despite the success of the Skywalk, the Tribe's relationship with Jin soon deteriorated when SNW withheld millions of dollars in management fees from GCSD claiming that Jin had failed to complete construction of the Skywalk Visitor's Center. The Skywalk development agreement contained a waiver of sovereign immunity for the limited purpose of mandatory arbitration. When GCSD sued SNW in Hualapai Tribal Court for the withheld fees, Hualapai Judge Ida Wilber dismissed the suit and referred the matter to arbitration.

In February 2012, while arbitration proceedings were pending, the Hualapai Tribe seized GCSD's interest in the Skywalk through an "eminent domain" action filed in the Hualapai Tribal Court. The Tribe then claimed ownership of GCSD's claims in the arbitration and dismissed GCSD's demand for arbitration with prejudice. GCSD objected to the dismissal, and the arbitration proceeded. In August 2012, the panel awarded GCSD $28.6 million for unpaid management fees and attorneys' fees.

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