The Delaware Tribe of Indians may have an interest in a northeast Kansas casino at some point, but local leaders are more confident than ever it won't be built in Douglas County.
At a meeting hosted Monday by Lawrence and Douglas County officials, leaders with the Oklahoma-based tribe confirmed they have signed a development agreement with a company that specializes in building casinos. But the agreement does not specify a site for a casino, and multiple local leaders said they were optimistic the tribe had given up any thoughts for a casino on a prime piece of North Lawrence property the tribe purchased earlier this year.
"We certainly were left with the impression that their thoughts on Lawrence being a site for a casino were pretty much dashed at this point," said Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, who attended the meeting, which lasted for several hours.
Attempts to reach officials with the tribe were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
Lawrence Mayor Mike Dever, though, said he also is confident the tribe has put aside whatever thoughts it had for a casino in the area. Tribal leaders have never said they had plans for a casino in Lawrence, but they also had stated they wouldn't rule out the possibility of a casino for the approximately 90-acre tract of land they purchased along the Kansas Turnpike in North Lawrence.
"I don't believe they view this land as the premium or premier location for any gaming activity that may take place in the future," Dever said. "I think we have made it clear to them that we would find that problematic."
City and county officials spent considerable time at Monday's meeting going over the development challenges associated with the low-lying piece of property, which formerly was the sod farm for the Pine Family Farms.
Dever said local officials talked about the considerable flooding problems associated with the property, the community desire to preserve prime agricultural soils, and numerous regulatory issues that could be put in play by the Federal Aviation Administration because of the property's proximity to the Lawrence Municipal Airport.
Thellman said she and others urged the tribe to consider agricultural uses for the property. She said the property could make for a unique agritourism site that would educate people about traditional food-producing techniques and Native American culture and history.
Dever said he's convinced the tribe is still very interested in having a significant presence in Lawrence, perhaps moving its tribal headquarters from Bartlesville, Okla.
"They want to move here," Dever said. "They clearly are looking for an opportunity to bring jobs and bring federal dollars into this area to assist the Native American population that lives in the region."
Tribal officials on Monday acknowledged they had signed a development agreement with the casino development firm River Trails LLC. The Journal-World reported in August that the Delaware Tribe in 2011 had signed a development agreement with River Trails that instructed the company to look for sites for a casino in northeast Kansas. The development agreement became the subject of a federal lawsuit. Local officials said they were told Monday that the lawsuit has been dismissed, and a new development agreement with the company has been signed.
But local leaders were told the agreement does not direct River Trails to focus on a particular site, although it does specify that the casino would be in Kansas. Tribal officials reportedly had looked for property in Leavenworth County prior to purchasing the Lawrence site this summer.
Nothing in the development agreement would stop the tribe from trying to develop a casino in the Lawrence area, but Dever said he thinks that is unlikely at this point.
"It was clear to us that they only want gaming to happen if it comes with community support," Dever said. "In other words, I think they care how we feel about them as a group. They want to be welcomed here."
Lands north of the Kansas River were the tribe's last home before being forced to move into Oklahoma shortly after the Civil War.
The tribe has acknowledged that it has an interest in becoming a federally recognized Kansas-based tribe. Currently, the tribe is on Cherokee land in Oklahoma, which limits some of the federal funding and programs available to the tribe.