Tribe Awarded $12.7 Million Loan For New Government Center In Mashpee
By: Brian Kehrl
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s casino proposal may be in limbo, but there will soon be another grand new building on tribal property, this one in Mashpee.
Tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell announced yesterday that the tribe has secured $12.7 million in construction financing to build a government and community center at the tribal council headquarters property on Great Neck Road South.
“It is our first government operations building that will house all of our services and programs. It will be a gathering place we can call our own,” Mr. Cromwell said in an interview. “I’ve got to pinch myself as a reminder that this is real.”
The planned 40,000-square-foot building, for which Mr. Cromwell said he hopes construction will begin in late winter or early spring, will replace the trailers and old office buildings now on the tribe’s nearly 60-acre property.
The project will be required to go through the town permitting process because the tribe’s application to create a reservation is pending with the federal Department of Interior. Mr. Cromwell said the tribe has a strong relationship with the town, and he pledged to work closely with town officials on the project.
Obtaining the financing is a major move for a project long under consideration by the tribe. The tribal administration has been working out of trailers for several years. The main office building does not have a space large enough for meetings of tribal members, so the tribe rents the auditorium at Mashpee High School for its monthly general membership meetings. The main building consists of two former houses donated to the tribe, moved to the Great Neck Road South property, and married together to make a single structure.
“Those buildings are so small compared to our government needs and service deliveries,” Mr. Cromwell said.
But Mr. Cromwell said his administration has refined the previous plans to incorporate more tribal cultural aspects. For example, the roof was redesigned to be reminiscent of a turtle shell, an homage to the turtle’s important role in tribal traditions, as well as a waterfall in the foyer to signify the tribe’s close relationship to the water.
“We have taken the best of all worlds, with modern day green construction with a touch of our culture and traditions,” he said.
Mr. Cromwell said a home for the tribal court system and a fitness center were also adopted into the new plans.
The initial interest rate is estimated to be 4 percent, according to Jennifer Lerch, a business programs specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture rural development office, which funded the project.
The full, 30-year loan is being financed through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, but an innovative approach was used to structure the repayment, Ms. Lerch said. The tribe was able to guarantee its repayment through other government grants it receives or is scheduled to receive, she said. Most grants to recognized tribes provide for overhead costs, typically about 30 cents out of each dollar, to cover rent, utilities, and other costs not directly related to service delivery. So the tribe will use the overhead to repay the loan, instead of paying for rent or utilities at other locations, she said.
The tribe currently spends about $150,000 a year on rent and utilities for its government operations, which are scattered across three separate locations in town, according to information from the tribe.
“This, as far as we know, is the first of its kind, using this collective security source to provide for a government center,” Ms. Lerch said, adding that the financing will enable the tribe to build the structure without first having to establish a revenue source from gaming or another enterprise.
Ms. Lerch said the facility will also enable the tribe to access additional federal programs beyond what is available now, since many programs require certain infrastructure to be already built. “So, as you can imagine, for some tribes it is like a chicken or the egg situation.”
The large new building—which is planned to be about twice the size of the new Mashpee Public Library—will house the tribe’s growing government, including administrative offices and other departments; mental health and public health services; the tribal court; areas for tribal elders and youth; a gymnasium and fitness center; a library; and a function hall with a kitchen.
Mr. Cromwell said the project will also create construction jobs that will serve as a boon to the local economy.
In addition to the practical benefits, Mr. Cromwell said the new building also holds great symbolism for the tribe.
“It is a great place for our community to say that in this modern day time we are able to thrive,” he said. “All of a sudden I see an identity in today’s modern world. Yes, we can do this. We have a place to call home and a place we can look at and respect and honor and call ours. It represents all those things in our community changing, of not having. Now we can have.”