WAYLAND TWP. – The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indiansor Gun Lake Tribe, plans to transform hundreds of acres of property north of Gun Lake Casino in a massive development that could include retail, healthcare, housing and manufacturing, MiBiz has learned.

For years, the tribe has been acquiring property north of the casino on the east side of US 131 in Allegan County to secure it for possible future development. Monica King, CEO of Investments in Gun Lakethe tribe’s non-gaming investment arm, said the tribe was granted approximately 2.75 miles of freeway frontage spanning approximately 1,200 acres.

Now, Gun Lake Investments is launching a six-month planning phase to prioritize various uses and where to locate them.

“The planning phase will really be about figuring out what our constraints and opportunities are, and what we can target first,” King said. MiBiz. “It’s really a 25+ year project and it’s going to be such a huge project. We really have to make sure everyone is involved. … Twelve hundred acres is so important and it will be its own ecosystem. We have a few projects (under development) that we want to accelerate and hope to innovate next year.

Parts of the development could complement the tribe’s growing casino operations, including a new 15-story hotel, but the new project will not involve gambling, King said. Conceptually, the tribe hopes to use the development to help attract more families to the area, she added.

“We really want to make this corridor a destination,” King said, noting it was too early in the process to provide cost estimates for the project.

Currently, the casino property and a nearly 140-acre parcel immediately north of 130th Avenue are held in trust by the federal government for the tribe as part of its reservation. Gun Lake Tribe holds title to other parcels it owns in the corridor, but will in future ask the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs to take as much land in trust as possible, King said. She also expects some projects to take place on non-trust land owned by the tribe.

The federal process for a tribe to transfer the land it holds in trust could take about six months to a year, said Fred Schubkegel, a partner in the Kalamazoo office of Varnum LLP whose areas of practice include American Indian law. Converting the property to federal trust land would unlock many tribal sovereign benefits, especially for non-gaming developments.

For example, businesses that operate on trust land do not pay local or state property taxes or personal property taxes. Projects on trust land would only have to follow tribal zoning, rather than any local or state regulations.

“If there’s a company that’s otherwise state-regulated, they would just have to negotiate with the tribe,” Schubkegel said. MiBiz. “To a certain extent, a tribe can make whatever it wants happen. You have a unit of government.

Having one government as the zoning and monitoring authority is a beneficial development tool that can speed up the process, he said, noting that companies that are normally regulated by multiple bodies would only have to negotiate with the tribe on trust land.

Throughout Michigan, tribes exercised their sovereignty over trust lands to attract investment in various industries. For example, after the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians legalized the sale of cannabis, both tribes worked with Lume Cannabis Co. to open dispensaries on their trust lands. Tribal sovereignty offered the company a way to open stores in northern Michigan, even though the surrounding municipalities in both cases wouldn’t allow recreational sales, because MiBiz Previously reported.

“Tribes are definitely getting into (non-game development) because they know they need to branch out, and most of them have been starters for a long time,” Schubkegel said. “They want to last for seven generations. It is their home and they feel a real fiduciary responsibility.

Identification of uses

To create a development plan for the corridor, GLI partners with St. Charles, Ill. WBK Engineeringcivil engineering and urban planning consulting company owned by Mno Bmadsenthe non-gaming investment branch of the Potawatomi’s Pokagon Band which also has an office in Battle Creek.

GLI plans to work with other tribal organizations “to the extent possible” throughout the development process, King said, noting that it likely expects to bring in outside development partners for parts of the project. project.

“We plan to engage community partners along the way, and initial conversations have been very positive,” King said, noting that the development team is “still working” on some of the project’s funding scenarios.

Lakeshore Advantage Corp.the economic development agency that serves Ottawa and Allegan counties, worked with several members of the Tribe’s development team regarding the planning of the corridor development project.

The amount of land GLI controls and its strategic location from a shipping and logistics perspective is a “very rare thing to have,” said Lakeshore Advantage’s president. Jennifer Owens said MiBiz.

“We remain ready to be a resource with them,” Owens said.

Notably, Gun Lake Tribe is interested in accommodating industrial uses in the corridor, paying particular attention to uses that West Michigan has not been able to support in recent years due to site limitations and high demand for quality manufacturing space.

“Industrial developments, particularly between 100,000 and 200,000 square feet, are things that we may not encounter on a regular basis for new or existing businesses looking to expand,” Owens said. “There is also a need for storage space and logistics. The cold storage space is also completely full – that’s another request.

The tribe is also “going above and beyond” to invest in infrastructure along the corridor, as evidenced by recent transportation improvements, Owens added.

For example, the tribe worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation and local governments to replace a US 131 overpass on 129th Avenue in Wayland Township near the casino. Gun Lake Tribe invested $20.7 million to expedite construction of the bridge, which had an overall price tag of $23.7 million.

Construction crews completed the project last month. The new viaduct replaced an aging double-lane bridge that was often at capacity during peak hours at the casino. The new bridge can accommodate more than 35,000 vehicles per day, more than double the capacity of the previous interchange.

“Thinking about future generations”

One of the hurdles to developing a property for industrial use is finding land with utilities like electricity, water, and sewer. To that end, the tribe is working with the town of Wayland to secure utilities for the corridor, King said.

Gun Lake Tribe also successfully secured $1.5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Trade Economic Development Administration for Corridor Project Infrastructure Investments. King said the tribe plans to identify other federal grant programs, as appropriate, to move the project forward.

These funding opportunities have been more plentiful recently. Particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has flooded Indian County with billions of dollars in funding opportunities ranging from broadband connectivity and infrastructure to economic development planning and climate resilience.

“There’s a lot of federal funding available that’s directed toward public infrastructure like roads, sewers, and environmental stabilization,” Schubkegel said. “To the point where tribes can pool that support, it gives them access to a resource that a local government might not have.”

Gun Lake Tribe Chairman Bob Peters said the next steps in the planning process will include determining the look of the development, which will be based in part on a pattern book the tribe developed in over the years.

“A lot of it relates to our culture and comes from speaking to our members, and will include native plants, native languages ​​and architecture,” Peters said. MiBiz. “It’s still a work in progress. We are anxious and excited to see how everything falls into place.

Even though the project is a non-gaming venture, Peters also cites “a number of synergies” with Gun Lake Casino, which is in the midst of its own $300 million expansion. Announced in April 2021, the expansion includes the addition of a 15-story, 220-room resort hotel with an enclosed glass-domed pool and entertainment area. The tribe expects the expansion to open in mid-2025.

“We are constantly thinking about future generations,” Peters said. “We exercise our sovereignty wherever we can.”