Casino plan moves forward

Published 9:33 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
Poarch Creek Tribal Chairman Eddie Tullis has a vision for Poarch and Atmore.
He sees tourists in cars and buses pulling off I-65 on exit 57, and spending their money at an Indian casino, motels and hotels around Atmore, and at shops and museums, their money improving the quality of life for Indians and non-Indians alike in this area.
That vision might be well on its way to reality by the end of the year Tullis said. "We're going to build a casino here," he said.
But Tullis doesn't want the tribe to do it alone. And as things stand right now, it can't. "We have enough property to build a casino, but we don't have the property to build the retail stores, the golf courses, the things you need to support a casino," Tullis said.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians doesn't have that kind of land at exit 57 – the intersection of AL 21 and I-65 – the City of Atmore does. "We're still trying to buy some property at the Interstate, but the city of Atmore will have to be a major player in the development of exit 57," Tullis said.
Tullis' vision is grand in scope. It includes a casino, 14-story hotel, water park, a 27-36-hole golf course, and retail shops in the immediate area of the casino. Taking the vision beyond exit 57, Tullis sees an Indian cultural and educational center in Poarch, a rail museum and shopping in Atmore and outdoors activities of all kinds at a high-end nature resort in the Sardine area.
The Casino and retail shopping plan is set for the southeast corner of exit 57, starting where the current bingo palace sits and moving development towards the Interstate.
The City of Atmore currently owns 90 acres of that property slated for development.
The tribe and city have worked closely on plans to develop that corner of exit 57, including numerous meetings between Tullis and Atmore Mayor Howard Shell, and members of the city's industrial development boards. Tribal and city officials have taken visits together to other Indian operations around the south.
Communication and cooperation between the two organizations is good, Tullis said. "We have a good relationship with the city right now, but it wasn't like that, five to 10 years ago," he said.
Shell said he and Tullis have an excellent working relationship and the city and tribe are working closely together in the interest of bringing economic development to the area, but he declined to elaborate on any other issues.
"I was excited when the city got that property. I wasn't happy when they got the property we wanted, but the city is blessed to have enough property to build a nice retail development," Tullis said.
In addition to the retail area, golf would also be in the plans for the city property. "We've got to have a quality golf course within 10 miles of the casino," Tullis said. Right now, plans put a golf course on the other side of the Interstate.
The tribe is currently considering partners for the casino operation, considering a type of turn-key operation where construction and day-to-day management would be handled by company in the casino business. Tullis said he would like to see construction beginning by the end of the year.
The rest of the project could take longer, but Tullis said he doesn't like to wait. "I only have another four years to make a contribution, and I want to see these things happen. We will have a casino in this state, and in four years, we're going to have a cultural and educational center that children from around the state will come to see."
"We're not getting into gaming because Indians love to gamble, we do it because we are interested in improving the quality of life for our 2,200 plus tribal members," Tullis said.
Even though the tribe may wind up with a brand new casino building, they won't have casino-style games there without either a signed compact with the governor, or a bill authorizing Indian casino gaming.
Tullis isn't concerned about that issue. "I believe there's going to be a real awakening to the fact there needs to be drastic change," he said. "Either Indians will be able to do gambling or we'll be setting up gas stations at the state line to get a little bit of the money people are carrying to Mississippi.

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