A leader with the Indian tribe that bought nearly 90 acres of prime North Lawrence property said he fully expects the tribe to have a public meeting with the Lawrence community once plans for the land become more refined.
"For everyone who is anxious on specifics, we aren't prepared to give them because we don't have them to give," said Curtis Zunigha, tribal operations manager for the Delaware Tribe of Indians, based in Bartlesville, Okla.
In the meantime, Zunigha is asking Lawrence-area residents to be patient and not let their imaginations run wild with ideas about an Indian casino.
"Speculation and rumor are the biggest killers in the spirit of any organization or community," Zunigha said. "My recommendation is that people stop speculating and be patient."
Zunigha's comments come after the tribe's chief and other leaders met with a delegation of Lawrence city commissioners and Douglas County commissioners in Oklahoma on Tuesday. At that meeting, commissioners said that tribal leaders told them they had no specific plans for a casino on the North Lawrence property, but also wouldn't rule one out.
Zunigha said tribal leaders did deliver that message to the Lawrence delegation, but he said community members shouldn't try to read too much into it.
"Any opportunity a tribe has to exercise sovereignty and engage in economic development, you don't want to ever take that off the table," Zunigha said. "It is such a general statement, though."
The tribe bought nearly 90 acres adjacent to the North Lawrence Kansas Turnpike interchange. Speculation that the tribe has an interest in a casino has been fueled in part by interest the tribe expressed in 2000 to have a northeast Kansas casino. In 2011 the tribe signed a development agreement that instructed a firm to look for possible casino sites in the "greater Kansas City area of the state of Kansas." It is unclear whether the tribe has any such agreement in place currently.
City and county officials said tribal leaders have told them they have a strong interest in moving their tribal headquarters to Kansas. The move would end the current arrangement that has the Delaware Tribe based on land in the Cherokee Nation. That situation limits the amount of federal funding the Delaware tribe can receive and the services it can offer its members.
On Friday Zunigha did not provide new details about a possible move of the tribe's headquarters. He previously has said that the tribe has an interest in providing housing, child care and a medical clinic to serve the state's American Indian population.
Zunigha said the tribe's headquarters has 45 employees, but a decade ago it had closer to 200. Zunigha didn't provide any information on the number of jobs the tribe may create in Lawrence.
"What I can tell you is that what is good for the Delaware Tribe of Indians will be good for Lawrence and the state of Kansas," Zunigha said.
Tribal leaders, Zunigha said, have committed to have "face-to-face dialogue" with city and county leaders about future development of the property. City Manager David Corliss said he expects Lawrence officials to meet with tribal leaders in the next several weeks to discuss some of the more specific development challenges associated with the property.
Previous attempts by others to develop in the area have sparked concerns that development would increase flooding in the area and also remove prime farmland from production.
Tribal leaders are going through the process to have the land placed in federal trust, which would exempt the tribe from complying with city and county development codes. But some development items may be subject to negotiation because any tribal development might seek city or county services such as police, fire and utilities.
Zunigha said the tribe doesn't know when it will be ready to present plans to the public. He said the property is continuing to operate as a sod farm, as it did before the sale in July.
But he said the tribe will take great care in developing a plan for the property, which is part of the lands the Delaware tribe lived on before the Civil War. After the war, the tribe was forced to move to what is now Oklahoma.
"For us, it took 145 years to return to lands that we once owned," Zunigha said. "Waiting a little while longer to determine precisely what we are going to do with it requires patience."