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Tribe balks at ruling it must pay Skywalk developer $28 million

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An arbitrator has awarded a Las Vegas developer about $28 million in a contract dispute over the Grand Canyon Skywalk, but the tribe that owns the popular tourist attraction in western Arizona contends that the judgment isn’t enforceable.

David Jin invested $30 million to build the glass bridge on the Hualapai reservation that gives visitors a view of the Colorado River below.

He and the Hualapai Tribe have been locked in a contract dispute for more than a year that has led the tribe to sever Jin’s interest in the Skywalk and Jin to pursue legal remedies over allegations of constitutional rights violations.

Jin claimed a victory this month when the American Arbitration Association determined that he is owed some $28.5 million, mostly in management fees that he was to receive under contract with the tribe.

A federal court will decide whether Jin is entitled to the money.

“This shows there was a lot of money being made,” Jin attorney Mark Tratos said.

Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the tribe, would not disclose how much revenue the Skywalk generates each year.

A business arm of the tribe, Sa’ Nyu Wa Inc., has said the association lacks jurisdiction and declined to participate in a July hearing.

The tribe also argued that the proceeding was unnecessary because it already had enforced eminent domain over the contract, taking sole control over the Skywalk.

Even if a federal court sides with Jin on the award, Sa’ Nyu Wa, Inc., said it would be shielded from having to pay the judgment because of sovereign immunity that is waived only in federal court or actions ordered by a federal court.

“The Hualapai Tribal Council has always considered an array of legal options, including the payment of fair market value for the Skywalk management agreement to protect the rights of the tribe and end this painful dispute,” Cieslak said.

The tribe had participated in selecting an arbitrator, made counter claims and engaged in discovery before cutting Jin out of the contract, a decision he is fighting in a federal appellate court.

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