By PRINCIPAL CHIEF PATRICK LAMBERT
This month was another busy month for my office but a lot of good things for our people have been accomplished. I appreciate everyone’s prayers and the hard work from our Tribal employees. I couldn’t do it all myself so I am glad to have such a strong, educated and dedicated staff.
I have worked with Tribal Council this past month on various business diversification plans and held our first Project Development Summit on June 20. In this meeting, we discussed many exciting plans to diversify our business environment and provide new businesses and amenities for our Tribal members.
As a starter, we have an opportunity to develop a new retail outlet/entertainment venue in the big parking lot on the Casino grounds. We are in talks with a developer named Cordish Company and they develop large outlet shopping areas that contain all the name brand stores you can think of, such as: Bath & Body Works, Under Armor, Nine West Outlet, Old Navy Outlet, Tommy Hilfiger, The Children’s Place, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, PacSun, Michael Kors, White House Market Black, Wilsons Leather, New York & Company, Nike Factory Store, Lane Bryant Outlet, Jos. A. Bank, J.Crew Factory, Hot Topic, Gap Outlet, GUESS Factory Store, Forever 21, Dressbarn, Eddie Bauer Outlet, DKNY, Coach, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic Factory Store, American Eagle Outfitters, Fossil, H&M, Hot Topic, etc. etc.
I could keep naming stores that Cordish has a proven track record of bringing to their outlet retail/entertainment venues, but this list gives you an idea of the quality and ability of the Cordish company. By partnering with the Cordish company, we have a leg up on getting this “new” type of business development to kick into gear here in our town. And, without their partnership we have nearly a zero chance of attracting these type retail businesses to locate here.
We have always had to drive for over an hour to buy a suit or a dress but with this new development we could finally have those retail stores right here in Cherokee. This will not only provide us with new jobs and a new diversified tax base for our Tribal Levy, but will also add a newer and higher quality of life to our overall community by providing the type of amenities in shopping and retail that we have all come to need and expect.
We are also beginning to draw up plans on the development of a new convention center and hotel that will be capable of hosting large conferences. The reason being that every year our Tribe loses out on at least $15 million dollars annually because the casino lacks convention space and hotel rooms to house customers. With competition looming we should be pushing to capture every penny we can. The new convention/hotel center is important because it helps us prepare and stay ahead of potential competition that could come to our south or east. If we can capture some of that market and turn them into our loyal customers now, we will have a better chance of holding our market share if competition does arrive in the Atlanta market or other areas.
As an additional use of the convention center we are exploring the idea of making it capable of holding major sporting tournaments. With the increased hotel room space we can start inviting our sister tribes and other communities to major sporting tournaments and actually be able to offer them a room. For example, we have two events within the next couple of months, NAYO tournament and the Annual USET Conference, and neither of these events can be housed at our current hotel due to the demand just from our gaming customers.
Likewise, it has been shown in study after study that we have only about half of the number of hotel rooms in our entire town than what we need and that the business of conventions and sporting tournaments is a big and growing business. Both of which could be captured in a new convention and hotel and would tie in perfectly with our new retail/entertainment development planned. These diversified businesses go hand-in-hand and complement each other to provide cross-business to each. These new amenities along with our new bowling center, casino and potential water/adventure park creates a resort that will be unrivaled anywhere in the country.
Also being planned is a redesign of the downtown area. We are working with DOT to create a plan to make our downtown more pedestrian and retail friendly. Just as many towns have done in our area already, a new focus needs to be placed on our downtown so we can attract as much tourism as possible. When people come to town, or even all of us as residents, we should expect to see clean and well maintained streets and sidewalks, and pedestrian areas that are safe and user friendly. We have initial plans for a parking structure that can be built for downtown to help ease the on street parking problem and to help make the walking traffic flow much easier and safer.
We have also been discussing the possibility of creating a 3rd casino. I know at first, hearing this may sound a little out there, but the casino staff has run the numbers and a small “overflow” size casino on the other end of town could do very well. Under the Compact with North Carolina we have three casinos authorized. There is no-where except tribal land where the 3rd facility can be used so we should consider building it now and get ahead of any other potential competition. Remember, many other Tribes have multiple casinos such as the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma has 9 casinos, Seminoles in Florida have 5 casinos etc. As we have seen the 2nd casino we built in Murphy has already added great value to our bottom line and per capita. I believe if we build a small boutique style casino and give it a different name, such as Cherokee Horseshoe, Cherokee Rio, Cherokee Cromwell etc. I believe doing so would help distinguish it from the larger Harrah’s and would aid in building its own name and customer base.
We have run the projections on such a 3rd facility to see if it is feasible. Initially looking at it having a 200 room Hotel, 25,000 sq. ft. casino floor with 250 slots and 20 table games and 150 seat restaurant. The total estimated cost would be approximately $61 million to construct and would produce conservatively a projected revenue of $37 million annually that would equate to an additional $12 million tribal net revenue after the initial five-year payback. Every day we turn away customers from the casino, because we don’t have enough hotel rooms to put them in, and with another casino here in town we could easily defer them to our other property. It is an idea with a lot of merit and is worthy of more discussion.
We are also actively exploring the water adventure park facility that has been discussed for many years. This is a project that will be family friendly and provide a much needed boost to our family attractions for our visiting public. We are currently completing another feasibility study and hopefully we will have some positive results to share in a few weeks on those studies.
Another area that is under serious review and we have already seen a lot of good work on is the data-center that Councilmembers Albert Rose, Bo Crowe, and Teresa McCoy have spearheaded. This is an incredibly forward looking and promising project that holds great potential. A large scale data-center located on trust property has high revenue potential and can be another great opportunity to help diversify our economic model.
We have also been actively working to attract and locate here two major “anchor” type retail stores – Bass Pro Shop and Walmart. The addition of both Bass Pro and Walmart to town would not only lessen the burden of many in Cherokee who frequent these places for necessities and leisure, but would also serve as an economic engine that would further develop our tax base and pump Tribal programs with the additional revenue they need. While I recognize that some may have a preference for Target to Wal-Mart, Cabelas to Bass Pro, Home Depot to Lowes etc. But the point being we are actively recruiting and the stores we actually get are those that are able to locate here. We had discussions with Target and they responded stating that they were looking at a different business model at this time and are not interested in the less urban style markets for now. So we are open minded to all the different stores but will pursue those that have the ability and desire to expand and to locate with us.
Just as I campaigned on and shared my vision I am working every day to “JumpStart Cherokee”. The past administration wanted to tax our own members to raise capital and act as if that is diversification. I want to lower our members tax burdens and even create more incentives for our own members to shop on our own lands and spend their pay checks and per capita monies here. And let our visiting public also enjoy more amenities and grow our tax base. These are the visions I have and what I’m working toward. But there are a few people around and a council member or two who wants to stop everything and make like his idea of keeping us stuck where we are is a good idea!!! There is simple political jealousy and hatred for others that blacken some peoples heart and they try to spill this venom over to our people. My heart is solely for the betterment of our Tribe, Community and Cherokee Families! Over 71% of the people voted for the vision I’ve shared in the campaign and have been working everyday to fulfill. Help me by talking about your support of this vision and telling those who want to tear others down out of hatred or jealousy to go on back home. I am here to work for you and to follow the mandate that we were given to make this Tribe and Community better for all Cherokee Families and a big part of that is economic diversification, infrastructure in our town and protection of our future thru smart growth and development. Overall we have a very progressive and hard-working Tribal Council and it would be a shame to allow one or two bad apples to tear us down and spoil the first chance we have in nearly two decades to really make some strong diversification moves to protect our future.
Following is the report from my daily calender and report on day-to-day events and actions taken on your behalf:
We traveled to Snowbird for the groundbreaking for the new Snowbird Senior Center. It was a great turnout and I am so happy for the Snowbird Community to finally get something they have been asking for. I promised Snowbird to make them a priority and stop talking and make some action happen. I am pushing the construction company hard to get it done quickly and get our Snowbird seniors back in their center.
Today was the regular session of Tribal Council and was also the surprise birthday of my new Grandson! He came rushing in about two weeks early, but very healthy and happy. A real blessing. Thank you for all the notes of congratulations and well wishes, so appreciated!
Today, we had a lands acquisition committee meeting and that evening attended the “Remember the Removal” Bike Riders send off at the Kituwah Field Hanger. A great event, and I am very proud of the courage of all the Bike Riders to set-off on such a journey. Congratulations on a successful trip!
My best to all the Swain County High School graduates. Best to you in all your future endeavors.
Finally able to travel to Charlotte and meet my new grandson, Patrick Rhett Lambert. He is beautiful and has a full head of coal black hair.
Gave an opening welcome speech at the “26th Annual Native Health Research Conference” held at our Casino Conference center. Later that morning, I had a Cabinet Meeting and a Commerce meeting. After lunch I conducted a Project Development Working Group meeting where we continued making our plans to “JumpStart Cherokee” and following that held budget meetings with my staff and finance.
The morning started with continued Budget discussions followed by housing meetings and a further meeting with Casino leadership to discuss the casino allocations and the dispute on those matters. After lunch I met with the Sequoyah Fund to discuss future plans for the program. At 3:30 along with Tribal Council, TCGE Board, TGC Commission and Harrah’s management team we had a meeting with Mr. David Cordish, a well-known developer to discuss some developments for our town. It was a very productive meeting and I hope to get some plans in place to bring more revenue to our Tribe.
On this day, I traveled to Washington DC for visits with several congressmen and senators and to attend the “Cherokee Days” event at the Smithsonian Museum.
I worked with our Lobbyist in DC and attended meetings with several different Congressmen and Senators on House Bill 3599 that will return several acres of land to us in Trust close to Tellico Lake in Venore, Tenn. This is the same bill that we wrangled support for at the Tri-Council meeting. Later in the evening I gave a welcome speech at the Smithsonian Museum for the opening of the “Cherokee Days” event hosted this year by the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma. Mr. Bo Crowe also attended the event and gave a few opening remarks as well. Our Commerce staff did a great job with representing us and I was pleased to see all of our Cherokee royalty there; These young ladies represent us so well! Thank you.
Before the event I had a meeting with Kevin Gover, Director of Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and discussed working on helping the Museum with an American Indian VA Memorial and also an increased exhibit for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Also on this same date we had several of our young Tribal members graduate from the Smokey Mtn High School. Congratulations and best to each of you!
Today was a very sad day for our Tribe. We laid to rest a good friend and well-respected tribal member – Mr. Pee Wee Crowe, former Vice-Chief and Council member. We will never forget him. He will be missed by everyone. I continue to keep his family in my prayers.
Today, I left for Oklahoma to attend the annual Tri-Council meetings between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma, and the UKB from Oklahoma.
Various meeting and events in Tulsa for the Tri-Council meetings
I decided since I was so close I should drive from Tulsa over to Bentonville Arkansas (about 2 hour drive) to meet with Walmart officials about the possibility of locating a store in Cherokee. I was able to secure a meeting with short notice and had a very productive meeting with Joe Allbright, Senior Director of Real Estate and Damian Tutt, Senior Director in Corporate Offices. Following our meeting the area representative for our region was dispatched out of Charlotte to drive up here and make a site visit. He came on the evening of the 16th and met with Commerce Secretary Mickey Duval and Tribal Construction Director Glen Bradley. They gave him a tour of our entire area and he seemed very positive for the opportunity. We should hear soon on their evaluation of the possibility of us getting a new store located here.
Tri-Council meeting was held and we were successful in getting two resolutions passed that gave us the guarantee of support in Congress from the other Cherokee Tribes on House Bill 3599 for the land into trust for us; and our joint support for Senator Tester’s Bill that would expand criminal jurisdiction so we can arrest and prosecute non-Indians for crimes they commit on the reservation. We also passed a third resolution that was submitted by Speaker Joe Bird of the Cherokee Nation for expanding our native language opportunities. Following the Tri-Council meeting I traveled back on Friday evening.
Happy Father’s Day!
Today, I hosted a Tribal Project Development Summit with the full Council, Executive, TCGE, TGC, and Casino Management. We covered the entire ground of all the projects I am pushing thru the pipeline for consideration; from retail, convention, downtown revitalization, water/adventure park, third casino facility, data center, new hotel and parking developments etc. What I had originally planned as a 2-3 hour meeting lasted nearly 8 hours. But it was really good to get all the ideas out on the table and fully discuss priorities and how we plan to move forward.
I feel confident that the majority of Tribal Council wants to get some new development and help these efforts to diversify our economy. But, I’m also sure there are some from the old regime who want to hold us back, because they never wanted to work hard enough to actually accomplish something to help secure our future, and it appears they may have the ear of a couple of Council members, but I know what I was elected to do and I will keep pushing ahead. I need your help to talk up support and NOT allow that negativity to spill over to anyone but his own hateful circle or to those one or two council members who still listen to the old regime and attempt to spill negativity in others. We have too many positive things to accomplish than to let someone like that get us down. Help me to work thru these projects and talk to your Council Members on your support for our efforts!
I had several program and staff meetings today. That evening Cyndi and I traveled to visit our daughter, Gina, in Minnesota for a couple days. She has lived for the past 5 years in North Dakota and just recently moved to Minneapolis. I think she’ll be much happier there and at least it’s about 15 degrees warmer on average in the winters. Minneapolis is a beautiful city and it is a real metropolitan area with a lot to do.
Today, we hosted the first Annual Father’s Day event at the fairgrounds. It was a light turn-out but it was great to see all those that attended. The BBQ lunch was great. We also had a cornhole tournament going plus an opportunity for the men to get a health checkup. I’d like to thank all of our volunteers and all those that came out.
I held staff meetings and Cabinet meetings for the first half day and also had meetings with our Capital Committee. Later in the afternoon I had our Project Development Working Group to meet and we further discussed with a couple of Council members the way to move projects forward. With all the potential new developments I am also exploring new housing opportunities for our members and new employees. We need to build some new condo/apartment developments to provide for our housing needs as well.
Later on the 27th I traveled to Raleigh to lobby for passage of an important bill that is needed to “fix” the problem we have recently had with our local counties and their attempts to charge the Tribe for State mandated Health and Safety inspections. I had dinner with Attorney General Roy Cooper to discuss his upcoming election. AG Cooper has always been a great friend to our Tribe and I have worked with him on countless issues over the past 20 years. I think his chances of being our next Governor is very high and he would be and is a great asset for our Tribe.
I visited well over 30 House and Senate members to discuss the important bill on County services for inspections. I told them in no uncertain terms that I would not agree for the Tribe paying for these services because it is a mandate from the State and not the Tribe. I discussed that I would be prepared to exercise our sovereignty and begin charging an income tax to all non-member and non-resident workers on our lands to help the Tribe cover this new fee from the counties. I also had a sit down meeting with Governor McCrory at the Governor Mansion and we discussed many of these same matters. Later that evening I hosted a reception for all members of the General Assembly and had over 150 attend! It was a great event and we got to socialize for a couple of hours with many of the top leadership including Speaker Moore and President Pro Tem Berger. My entire Cabinet with Secretaries including a few Director level staff came to Raleigh to attend the reception and they worked the room with the General Assembly members very well. We had the chance to get to know many of them on a more personal and professional level. This was great for the contacts that we all need to do a better job for all our Cherokee Families.
Also on the 29th my staff hosted another Fun Bingo Day at the fairgrounds. We gave out some good door prizes and had a great turn-out. This has been a fun event for our enrolled elders and I am very thankful to have the opportunity to provide it. Plus, we are raising a large stock-pile of goods for our Children’s Home. Thank you to my staff and all the volunteers that helped with this event. Hope to see you again next month at our Bingo game!
Today, I met primarily on HR type issues. The first meeting dealt with the plan we are putting together to present to the Benefits Committee for an “Early Retirement” option that employees may opt-in if eligible. I have made sure that any early retirement plan will be purely optional and completely up to each individual. We should see those plans (if approved by the Benefits Committee) to roll out later this summer. I also met with all the Department Secretaries on the new personnel policy. The first copy that was sent to employees was formatted incorrectly and a new version is being prepared. We are a large and diverse workforce in job types and duties and the policies that apply across the wide spectrum is a challenge to manage, but I am working hard to always make sure employees are treated with dignity, respect and fairness in all ways that I can.
Later that evening I attended the last part of the Birdtown Community Club meeting where I had to clarify misinformation that a particular person was attempting to spread. It is unfortunate that some try to build themselves up by tearing others down. But I suppose that is all he knows.
Considering this is such important news I wanted to go ahead and share it, the bill language that we lobbied for in Raleigh this week was passed by the Senate today about 12:30pm and is on its way to the Governor’s desk for signature! This is the language regarding the local counties attempting to charge the Tribe for Health and Sanitation inspections. With this bill language they will be prohibited from charging the Tribe for those type services. We have some good friends in Raleigh and a good lobbying staff of Steve & John Metcalf and Ken Melton. Thank you to all of them. This is good news for our PHHS staff and thanks also goes to Vicki Bradley for her hard work on this issue.
As I bring this report to a close I’m reminded of the special relationship I have with you. I was entrusted with a High Honor to be your Principal Chief. Entrusted to make the best decisions possible on your behalf in matters involving the Tribe and what is best for the whole over-all. Entrusted to fight for the truth and shine daylight into dark corners. Entrusted to lead by example and never falter in my fight for Cherokee Families – and entrusted to lead in an ethical and accountable way.
This past election was a clear mandate from you – the people – for Tribal government to do something. Tribal Council has a critical role to play in these discussions. They also have the responsibility of being open to new ideas and pushing past old political stalemates of who gets credit. Personally I don’t care who receives credit as long as we improve the quality of life for our people, diversify our economy, usher in a new wave of monies to tribal programs that serve the people, and move this Tribe forward.
Every day we don’t act is another day you and your family are doing without the benefit of the increased services that we could bring. I can’t do this on my own and I’m relying on you, the people of this Tribe, to help me convince Council to move these projects forward. Indecision, backroom fighting, and deciding who’s up and who’s down is wasting time.
So, if you’re like me, and you want to see something new; If you’re like me and want to see what this place is really capable of; If you’re like me and want us to bring in new retail, food, and entertainment options for Cherokee families and our visiting public, then now is our time to do it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and now is our time to get it done. Tell your elected leaders how you feel and let’s get some good decisions made soon to advance our Tribe and build an economy and tax base that helps all our Cherokee Families.
Thank you. Have a great month in July. Stay safe and may God Bless You and Your Family!