An Oklahoma-based Indian tribe wants to keep its options open for developing a casino somewhere in the Lawrence area, a delegation of local leaders was told by the tribe’s chief Tuesday.
In a meeting with a group of city and county commissioners and administrators, the Delaware Tribe of Indians did not present any specific plans for a casino on an approximately 90-acre piece of property that it has purchased near the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. But tribal leaders also said they hadn’t ruled out a casino development for the area.
“The telling thing for me was that they are not taking the casino option off the table,” said City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who attended the meeting in Bartlesville, Okla., where the tribe is currently based. “That doesn’t mean sound the alarm, but I think the public needs to know they said that.”
Local officials did leave with the impression that the tribe is very interested in moving its tribal headquarters to Lawrence. Mayor Mike Dever, who attended the meeting, said that could be a significant development for Lawrence. The tribal headquarters currently has 45 employees, but has had as many 200 at times. The tribe hopes a move to Kansas will allow the tribe to qualify for more federal funds.
“I think their first priority is to get established as a sovereign tribe in Kansas,” Dever said. “I think what they really want to do is create a tribal operation that is better than any other out there.”
But city and county commissioners requested Tuesday’s meeting, in part, because of speculation surrounding the tribe’s interest in a casino. The tribe at various times, including as late as 2011, has expressed interest in having a casino in northeast Kansas on property that used to be their tribal home prior to being relocated after the Civil War.
Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, who was the other elected official who attended the meeting, said she wants to have more conversations with the tribe about issues surrounding not only possible casino development on the property but also any type of development on the land. The property is prime agricultural land that has been used as a sod farm, and there is concern that development on the property will create significant stormwater flooding issues for adjacent North Lawrence properties.
“It was a pleasant and congenial meeting, but I think we left there realizing there is still quite a bit we need to talk about,” Thellman said.
City Manager David Corliss, who attended the meeting along with County Administrator Craig Weinaug, said the groups tentatively agreed to meet in the coming weeks to talk more specifically about the development issues that are associated with the property.
The tribe is working to have the recently purchased property put into federal trust, which would allow the land to be developed without following the county’s zoning and development codes. But some development items may be items of negotiation because any tribal development may seek certain city or county services such as police, fire and utility services.
In other news, city commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday:
• Unanimously approved a rezoning request that will allow for bistro/bar to develop at 804 Pennsylvania St., which is next to the Poehler Lofts in East Lawrence. The new establishment will be given two years to meet a special city requirement that it derive at least 55 percent of its gross sales from food and nonalcoholic beverage sales.
• Unanimously agreed to close the northbound lane of New Hampshire Street from Ninth Street to the mid-block crossing in front of the Lawrence Arts Center until March 1. The closing will accommodate a crane that will be used in the construction of a multistory hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
• Added three properties to the Lawrence Register of Historic Places: The Turnhalle building at 900 Rhode Island St.; The Kibbee House at 1500 Haskell Ave.; and the Joseph Savage House at 1734 Kent Terrace.