By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
After almost five years in the works, a deal between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Wal-Mart Corporation to locate a store on the Qualla Boundary has come to an end.
Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart spokesperson, told the Asheville Citizen-Times last Friday, “Nothing really happened other than our determination that it wasn’t the right thing for us to do at this time. There is nothing negative in that decision toward any community. Projects rise and fall on our priority list for a variety of reasons.”
Tribal Council approved a ground lease with the company in May 2009. According to figures presented at the time, the Wal-Mart Supercenter was slated to be 120,000 square feet costing the Tribe $25 million to construct and was projected to bring in close to $214 million in increased Tribal levy over a 25-year period. The lease was to be for 20 years with six five-year renewals for a total of 50 years possible.
Wal-Mart would have also been responsible for yearly lease payments, averaging $564,000 – $720,000, regardless of their decision to close or relocate.
“I think that the Tribe right now can’t really afford anything on a Wal-Mart,” said EBCI tribal member Kathy “Rock” Burgess. “We don’t really want to end up like the Pequots. They had a lot of money and now they have nothing. So, that’s how we’re going to end up if we don’t watch out how we’re spending our money and what we’re doing. And, right now we’re building too much anyway. We need to pay off the debts that we have.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy commented, “It’s not the right time for the Tribe to continue spending money. The Tribe would be better to spend its money on health care and on housing, and I’d like to know how much money has actually been spent on the project (Wal-Mart) so far. It’s probably in the millions.”
She continued, “The building needs to stop for awhile and the Tribe needs to use more caution when it comes to the Tribe’s resources and its assets.”
Painttown Rep. Terri Henry related, “Now that Wal-Mart has finally made its decision, we can focus on the needs that our people have and if our hospital is saying that they need a new location, let’s look at the Wal-Mart site. That’s what came out of the Painttown Community meeting we recently had and I think we should be taking a look at that location.”
The site chosen for the Wal-Mart was Cherokee Community Parcel No. 60A which is approximately 22 acres located adjacent to the current Cherokee Indian Hospital.
A request for comment from John Dowd III, of the Goodman Company – the firm hired by the Tribe in December 2008 to finalize the Wal-Mart negotiations, went unanswered by press time.