By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
The Sequoyah National Golf Club is one step closer to pushing forward with constructing a hotel after years of delay caused by COVID-19 and other factors.
The initial project was approved by Tribal Council in 2019 with a budget of $23.5 million. More than three years later, the plan has seen a shift. Curtis Wildcatt, chair of the Sequoyah National Golf Club Board, submitted Res. No. 373 (2022) that was presented in the August session of Tribal Council. This item was requesting a 66 percent budget increase to accommodate construction costs and additional amenities to the project. The proposal listed an additional $15.5 million, bringing the total project cost up to $39 million.
The debate of this resolution came from the beginning of Thursday’s (Aug. 4) Council session when Cory Blankenship, Secretary of EBCI Treasury, requested that the item be held for further financial analysis. The resolution states that ‘the EBCI Treasury department shall determine how best to finance the golf course hotel’, and Secretary Blankenship offered uncertainty to the Council on that issue.
“We’d ask that that item be held so that we can look at capital projects as a whole in a working session to determine the best places for investment. We’re currently engaged with our bank partners in a financial capacity exercise and so, by the time of that work session, we should at least have a preliminary report,” said Secretary Blankenship.
Wolftown Rep. Bill Taylor was immediately against holding the resolution, pushing Council to discuss and approve the legislation.
“Me and [Rep. Bo Crowe] were at community club the other night, we talked to them and there were no issues with it. I think, you know, it brings in different clientele. It brings in different customers. I think, you know, that’s a project that we need to move forward with,” said Rep. Taylor.
Secretary Blankenship insisted that holding the resolution was a matter of looking at the bigger picture, not trying to delay the project.
“I don’t disagree with moving forward, I think we just need to look at timing. We need to look at all the other capital commitments. Land purchases and things that we’ve contributed to. To determine the best way to move forward with the project. So, it’s not to necessarily hold up the project but to say where does it fall in line with the other capital commitments and the most recent addition of the CEDS (Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy) report, which should be available from Commerce Division,” responded Secretary Blankenship.
Rep. Taylor continued to challenge Blankenship’s request, stating that passing of the original resolution in 2019 made a work session unnecessary.
“Well, we’ve seen the CEDS report, but this project’s already been approved. It was approved a couple years ago or so. So, it doesn’t fall under the current CEDS because it’s already been approved in my eyes,” said Rep. Taylor.
“The resolution also stated the hotel would cost $23 million and this resolution asks for an additional 15. So, I think there needs to be some conversation,” said Blankenship.
Council decided to hear the resolution and continued to have substantial debate on the subject.
The first Council member who argued for holding the item was Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe.
“Secretary of Finance asked for it to be tabled and he watches all the money and has some sort of idea that we probably need to hold off. The resolution speaks to him trying to find the best finance options. So, with his request I’m going to move to table,” said Rep. Wolfe.
Further rebuttal was offered by Snowbird/Cherokee Co. Rep. Adam Wachacha, who was concerned about the cost analysis for the project.
“I agreed with the project from the get-go, and I understand that inflation has caused things to go up. But did it go up in the amount of $15 million…I want to see a pro forma so it would show actually how feasible it would be to accommodate these rooms,” said Rep. Wachacha.
“I really want to see the bottom line. So, I want to have this work session so that Finance can explain how much debt load that we can continue to carry on that’s based against our reserves. And how much borrowing power that we have.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed backed his Finance Secretary, explaining why he felt the resolution should be held.
“I support the project. I’ve supported the project from the beginning. For the record, we’re here where we are now with the project because when it came time to approve the site work, that resolution was killed. We were going to have Tribal Construction perform the site work. I think the cost was 2.5 or 3.5 million. That resolution was either moved to kill or moved to hold. That’s been a year and a half ago at least. So, I just want to say for clarification, it’s not that the project stalled because of any other reason other than this body didn’t approve funding Tribal Construction to do the site work. We did a groundbreaking, we were ready to move ahead,” said Chief Sneed.
“Cost increase on construction right now is mind blowing. I think it’s just good stewardship to pump the brakes here and see where we are. Our overall financial picture as the Tribe and what are priorities are as well.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy sided with granting the additional funding, advocating it as a local amenity.
“Our people are sick and tired of seeing their money go anywhere but in their own home. Their own property. They want that opportunity to stay right here. Our Indian people are not moving to Indiana for a job. Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, anywhere. They’re not. This is their home, and they deserve to have the best they can get right here in their own home with their own money. This is the people’s money we’re talking about,” said Rep. McCoy.
Rep. McCoy pointed to the large investments that the Tribe has made outside of Cherokee, specifically using the Caesars Southern Indiana Casino as an example.
“Not one of our members is up there receiving anything out of that project personally. But from this project out here, opportunity at not just employment but something that people enjoy doing.”
Curtis Wildcatt explained that after further research, the initial budget passed was not enough to accommodate the hotel they wished to build at Sequoyah National Golf Club.
“We had a little bit of reconsideration. We added the amenities necessary to represent us in a positive light. Restaurant amenities, bar, suite rooms, upgrades on materials used. That’s where these increases come from. Then, of course, all the inflation due to COVID and then the current economic situation,” said Wildcatt.
Tribal Council debated this topic for the majority of the open session on Thursday. Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe made a motion to pass that was seconded by Rep. Taylor. That motion passed, with Reps. Crowe, Taylor, McCoy, Richard French, Albert Rose, T.W. Saunooke, Bucky Brown, and Boyd Owle voting in favor.
Reps. Wolfe, Wachacha, and Tommye Saunooke voted against.
Res. No. 373 (2022) may be ratified by Principal Chief Sneed to become effective. According to established Tribal law, if Principal Chief Sneed doesn’t address the resolution within 30 days, it automatically is deemed ratified. If the Principal Chief vetoes the legislation, then the Tribal Council would need to take it up again and pass it by a two-thirds weighted majority vote in order to override the veto and enact the legislation.