By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The idea of retail development in the form of an outlet mall has been tossed around for multiple years in Cherokee. The latest ideas were pitched to the EBCI Planning Board during its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
Matt Armstrong, Gordon Group Holdings executive vice president, gave a presentation on a retail development idea for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort along with Jeff Hartmann, founder and chief executive officer of the Hartmann Group.
“As we look at upscale retail in Cherokee, I think you’re going to find that these two guys right here can really meet the challenge to what we need,” Dr. Mickey Duvall, EBCI Secretary of Commerce, told the members of Planning Board at the beginning of the presentation.
Armstrong noted, “We’ve done a lot of the type of development that you’re looking to do here in Cherokee. I commend you all for what you’ve created here.”
Gordon Group Holdings, with a corporate office in North Palm Beach, Fla. and a regional office in Greenwich, Conn., has worked with several federally recognized tribes in the past including the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation where it helped build The Outlets at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Tribe where they worked on The Shops at Mohegan Sun.
Tribal Council Chairman Bill Taylor said he has visited The Outlets at Foxwoods. “It’s a real nice development. I like the way it’s set up. It’s built on tiers. You don’t lose a whole lot of parking. You don’t lose a whole lot of space.”
He inquired about the possibility of attracting a Tanger Outlets development to Cherokee. “We’re not only looking for something for our clientele at the casino but our locals as well.”
Armstrong responded, “I would argue that you don’t need a Tanger here. You don’t need a Simon here. You can do something really special here, and you have a really strong brand affiliation already. I would even argue that adding another one could be confusing.”
Chairman Taylor said having such a retail development close-by will help tribal members. “We have to drive 45 minutes to an hour, and we want to be able to take care of our people here on the reservation too.”
Armstrong stated that if the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians decides to partner with his firm, that tribal member input will be necessary for the success of the project. “That’s always our goal….they contribute a lot to the success of the project.”
He said that input would be the main driver for the feasibility study phase of the project if approved. “That will get us to the types of tenants and the types of concepts that will work best in this market.”
Following that would be actual architectural renderings, pro forma financial statements based on projects, and initial business agreements. “We would then put together a very detailed business plan that could get us to a partnership agreement. We’re very transparent. We operate as a partner. We have skin in the game.”
He stressed community input will be a focus and said progress meetings during the process would be held. “We like for you to be part of the process all the way through.”
No action was taken by Planning Board on Wednesday regarding the presentation.
A second plan was pitched to the Board involving power – electrical power to be exact.
Louis Davis, a consultant with UTEC (Utility Technology Engineers-Consultants), brought forth the idea of the Tribe running its own electric utility business.
“You already provide some other utilities, and essentially you already are in the electric business,” Davis told the Board. “You just hire a firm called Duke Energy to do it for you.”
He added, “What I’m proposing is the concept of you going into the electric business yourself. That’s a very complicated process. It’s not something you do overnight.”
Davis said his firm provides consultant services to several municipalities who have followed this route including Seneca and Georgetown in South Carolina and the nearby Town of Waynesville. He said the business plan is a “very profitable business” for municipalities and added that Waynesville, who his firm has been helping for the past year-and-a-half, was able to transfer $1 million in profits into its general fund following the first year.
The business idea Davis proposed would involve the Tribe purchasing electric poles, transformers, and all equipment needed to run the operation from Duke Energy and then putting out RFPs (request for proposals) to find the cheapest power supply provider.
He said other positives behind the plan would involve lower downtime during outages. “You’ve got total responsibility for your outages. Your reliability of service goes way up, and you control your own destiny as far as setting rates. You’re the owner of the utility and you set your own rates.”
Vice Chief Richard G. Sneed, who invited Davis to Planning Board, made a motion which was passed for the Tribe to put out a RFP for the planning phase of the idea. “Let’s put it out there, see if it makes sense, and then we go from there.”
The RFP will not cost the Tribe a dime, and no commitments were made by Planning Board as to the idea.
Also during Planning Board, Annie Owens, an elder from the Yellowhill Community, was official nominated and voted in as the Elder Representative to the Board.