Investor in Grand Canyon Skywalk dies in Los Angeles after battling cancer; David Jin was 51

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A Las Vegas businessman who developed the Grand Canyon Skywalk glass bridge in northwestern Arizona and later became entangled in legal battles about it has died in Los Angeles, a company representative said Friday.

David Jin died Thursday at UCLA Medical Center after a four-year battle with cancer, Grand Canyon Skywalk Development spokesman David Weissman said. He was 51.

Jin’s death comes amid a continuing legal fight over his contractual rights to the Skywalk, a horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed walkway that has become the Hualapai Tribe’s premier tourist attraction. An attorney for the development company said Jin’s family will continue to pursue Skywalk legal rights.

Jin, originally from Shanghai, moved to the U.S. in 1988 and operated Oriental Tours Inc. and Y-Travel LLC in Las Vegas.

He already was ferrying tourists 2 1/2 hours from Las Vegas to the west rim of the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai reservation when he approached the tribe with an idea to build the Skywalk. It opened in 2007.

The structure juts out 70 feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon’s sheer limestone walls, offering visitors a unique view some 4,000 feet down to the Colorado River, which appears as a thin brown ribbon.

“Our thinking is that, if a human being could walk over the canyon, if they had the opportunity, even handicapped people, it’s just really, really, you know, something,” Jin told The Associated Press in 2006.

Jin invested $30 million to build the Skywalk. In exchange, the tribe agreed to split the profits from ticket sales with him over 25 years. But Jin’s relationship with the tribe soured in recent years, with the two sides wrangling over management fees and an unfinished visitor centre.

The tribe enforced eminent domain over the contract last year, essentially writing Jin out of his management role. Jin challenged the jurisdiction of the Hualapai court overseeing that case.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Jin had to exhaust the battle in tribal court before turning to the federal court. A request for rehearing by the full court was rejected last week.

The tribal business that succeeded Jin in managing the Skywalk filed for bankruptcy after an arbitrator awarded Jin more than $28.5 million in the contract dispute. The judgment is being appealed.

Jin also filed a federal defamation suit against tribal Chairwoman Sherry Counts, the tribe’s public relations firm and other tribal members.

On Friday, Counts issued a statement offering condolences and sympathy on behalf of the Hualapai people to Jin’s family.

“Our thoughts are with Yvonne, Michael and Catherine at this very difficult time,” she said.

Attorney Mark Tratos in Las Vegas represents Grand Canyon Skywalk Development.

Jin was not part of a recent dispute involving the Hualapai Tribe and a neighbouring property owner over payments for access on the main road to the Skywalk.

Jin’s wife and business partner, Yvonne Jin, will take over ownership responsibilities of Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, Oriental Tours and Y-Travel, Weissman said. Hualapai tribal member Ted Quasula, Jin’s longtime business associate, will continue to manage Grand Canyon Skywalk Development.

“The Grand Canyon Skywalk will be David’s legacy for eternity,” Quasula said in the company statement.


Fonseca reported from Flagstaff, Ariz.


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