By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
FRANKLIN – The Nikwasi Initiative is looking for new ways to develop the area surrounding the Noquisiyi Mound in Franklin.
Elaine Eisenbraun, executive director of the Nikwasi Initiative, said that the next phase of the plan is to focus on what is currently called the Dan’s Auto building, which rests on the property next to the mound. This building is owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), while the deed to the mound is currently held by the Nikwasi Initiative.
“The plan always was to put some sort of opportunity for learning in that building. Part of this plan with Equinox LLC was to convert this building into a learning center. It’s the logical first step in moving forward with this honoring program,” said Eisenbraun.
A major issue with the plan has been funding. Recently, the Initiative was awarded an opportunity to work with Appalachian Community Capital (ACC). On June 2, ACC announced those that would receiving support in their Opportunity Appalachia program. This seeks to assist community and cultural projects throughout the Appalachian states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. In this release was the Nikwasi Initiative.
“Development of a 7,048 sq. ft. former auto sales building into a cultural learning center adjacent to the Noquisiyi Mound, the largest unexcavated Native American platform mound in the Southeast. The mound will be landscaped with native food plants that the ancestors of today’s Cherokee would have grown or foraged and it will present awareness of the Cherokee connection to nature. Estimated costs total $3.75 MM with anticipated job creation of 10 construction jobs and 14 permanent positions,” stated the release.
Eisenbraun explained that their involvement in the project will not offer direct funding but will assist in aspects that will help get it off the ground.
“We saw an opportunity through Appalachian Community Capital. It’s a CDFI, which is a community development financial institute. They were offering technical assistance opportunities throughout the Appalachian states. We applied and we were awarded some in-kind technical assistance. In-kind means that we will be receiving value and product services, but no cash money right away from this.”
She said that she is looking for a fluid relationship with ACC. They will be offering suggestions for professionals they have worked with in the past and will have the ability to finalize who is hired.
“What it’s going to do is they are going to hire contract architects and engineers to help put the real final design together for this building to be what it can be. Also, part of the program, is they will help to do the fundraising. They’ll have an investor convening. They’ll bring angel investors and new market tax credit experts and banks and such altogether. To look at how to fund this project once the architectural design is complete.”
Eisenbraun said that ACC’s involvement has a projected value of $75,000. The approach this project as shifted significantly over the last few months, with some doors to opportunity now seemingly closed.
“In all honesty, we tried to apply for EDA funding. Which would’ve been a much larger amount of money and we would’ve been able to take a bigger bite out of the project. But for a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out. For me and for our whole board and others, people realized that when you’re dealing with a project like this that touches so many people, you have to take small steps at a time. Rather than trying to complete the whole project at once.”
The discussed plan was to apply for $5 million from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) as part of the American Recovery Plan Act.
“It just became really complex. I think the primary fallout was the EDA anticipated that they were going to get a second round, a major round of funding out of Congress. So, they opened the door a little too wide, maybe. By the time we had everything together, because we were working with so many different partners on this, it took us longer than it might’ve taken some other organization to get all the pieces pulled together from each different organization.”
Eisenbraun said that taking this approach will take longer but it can be done with more input from the local communities. It is quite a shift from making sweeping developments, but she said that being a third-party non-profit that is trying to work with Macon County, the Town of Franklin, and the EBCI has put them in a difficult situation to make those broad changes.
“We developed this plan for what we call a cultural district around the mound. Hopefully, one day that will come to fruition, but sometimes you have to take small steps to get a big accomplishment.”
The next steps will be finding additional funding opportunities and landing partners for design. She said that they are expecting architecture and engineering plans by late winter or early spring of 2023.
The message the Nikwasi Initiative wants to get across now is to open the discussion and receive ideas from tribal members.
“For people in the EBCI community, please reach out to us. We’ve already had in-depth surveys from EBCI members explaining what they want to see on that site. But there are specifics about that building that people feel are important, go to our webpage or email me. My email is on the webpage. Reach out, because we want to hear what you want. Because it’s your building and your future.”
You can learn more about the Nikwasi Initiative and their projects at https://www.nikwasi-initiative.org/. You can see the full list of receipts of Opportunity Appalachia can be found at https://appalachiancommunitycapitalcdfi.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Opportunity-Appalachia-ACC-Announcement-6.2.22-1.pdf