By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In less than two years, Cherokee will have an adventure park resort. Tribal Council recently approved the plans for a $92 million indoor facility that will include a water park, 302 hotel rooms, whitewater simulators, rock climbing, ziplines and more.
The park will be built on a site on Hospital Road that was formerly slated for the Wal-Mart project.
“We’re looking at a very aggressive time frame,” said Jason Lambert, EBCI Director of Commerce. “We’re looking at trying to have the resort open for business by June 2014.”
He related that a groundbreaking on the project is currently slated for spring 2013.
“Initially, the project was $140 million,” said Lambert. “So, we went back and we re-scoped it and revised it with our designer to reduce the investment but still gave us the quality of project. We went from 400 rooms to 300 rooms, and by reducing that, we reduced the entry cost, but we also improved the anticipated performance across the board.”
Lambert said conceptual plans and drawings should be available within the next few months and those will be shared with the public.
As to the funding of the project, Lambert related, “What we’re looking at is a conglomeration of tribal equity debt as well as the New Market Tax Credits (NMTCS).”
In the September 2008 issue of Indian Gaming magazine, Valerie Red-Horse sums up what a New Market Tax Credit is in her article entitled, “New Market Tax Credits: A Creative Financing Solution for Tribal Enterprises.”
“Basically, the government allows certain investors to invest into a qualifying project for approximately 20-25 percent of the overall cost of the project in exchange for receiving tax credits that will reduce that investor’s income tax liability (typically a corporate or institutional entity), wrote Red-Horse. “The borrower (eventually the tribal enterprise) will receive the funding at a very low cost interest rate for seven years interest only, whereby then the funding is converted into equity in the project so there is no principal repayment of that portion, i.e., ‘free money’ for all intents and purposes.”
Lambert commented, “The New Market Tax Credits are a great deal. In seven years, you come out with a residual value to your advantage. You actually lower the price of the project by using the New Market Tax Credits.”
Doug Cole, EBCI Planning and Economic Development manager, said the adventure park will attract people from 2 to 70 years old. “When you add the adventure components such as the rock climbing, whitewater rafting, ziplines and those types of things, you take the demographic way above just the teens.”
“It also helps us bring in some convention business,” he commented.
Lambert said the key markets are going to be Atlanta and Charlotte. The target audience will mainly be families with children who live within a three hour drive of Cherokee.
“The purpose of this project is really to bring the families back, to really position us as a destination and the key measure of a destination is overnight stays.”
Cole related that all of the rooms at the resort are being designed to hold at least six people.