By JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUSS, Associated Press
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ With the recent announcement of two major development projects and the start of work on a third, business at the Cherokee Nation appears to be thriving.
Details of the latest plan are scheduled to be announced Wednesday in Catoosa _ where the tribe operates the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation has inked an $80 million deal with a national developer to bring shopping, dining and entertainment to the complex.
Large-scale projects are nothing new for the tribe _ it converted a bingo hall into a resort casino in 2004, and then turned that into the massive Hard Rock in 2009 in the midst of a recession _ and tribal leaders say the three latest developments prove the Cherokees are thinking bigger and grander.
Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker said Tuesday that relying alone on revenue from casinos is not good business for the Cherokees.
“We’re looking at projects we can diversify with that will create literally thousands of jobs,” Baker said in a phone interview. “We’re making sure these announcements we’re making are job creators to sustain our growth.”
The business division and its subsidiaries employ nearly 6,000 people and brought in more than $715 million in revenue last year, according to the tribe. The division’s profits are reinvested into creating more jobs or go toward social services for tribal members.
“Growing our businesses helps us build upon our mission of creating quality jobs within the Cherokee Nation, while generating the resources to support the tribe’s programs and people,” Shawn Slaton, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, said in a statement Tuesday. “We are proud to be in a position where we can make such a huge contribution to the health and well-being of Cherokee citizens.”
The 300,000-plus member tribe, Oklahoma’s largest, also recently announced another big project and broke ground on a third.
Last week, the tribe said it was bringing a $170 million retail and hospitality development to Tahlequah. The project will feature dining, entertainment and retail and will be located on land near the Cherokee Springs Golf Course, which the tribe bought in 2012.
And in August, the tribe’s entertainment wing started work on a nearly $10 million casino project in South Coffeyville _ located along Highway 169 just south of the Kansas border. The new 17,000-square-foot property will offer 300 electronic games, a bar and dining at a 50-seat restaurant, among other amenities.
Things also appear to be going well for other tribal interests, such as philanthropy. On Thursday, the Cherokee Nation plans to announce a “significant” financial contribution to fund a future Cherokee exhibit at Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa.