PCI busy with development plans

Published 11:55 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has mapped out an ambitious plan for growth — including a large travel center, entertainment complex and the expansion of its Wind Creek gaming facility.

The projects are planned for Atmore’s two interstate exits.

During a speaking engagement with the Atmore Rotary Club Tuesday, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority Economic Development Coordinator Donna Henry mapped out the tribe’s ambitious plans for development in the coming years.

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Beginning with a large travel center and truck stop, located just north of exit 54 on Jack Springs Road, PCI is working on plans for several projects, including a large entertainment plaza to be constructed between Wind Creek Casino and Hotel and Highway 21. Henry said both locations would also include parcels designated for commercial use.

A ground-breaking for the travel center is close, and construction is expected to be complete by August 2012. Henry said once the center is complete, work on the entertainment plaza would begin. Plans for the plaza currently include a movie theater multiplex and a bowling alley.

In addition to the two upcoming projects, Henry said plans are also in the works for an expansion of Wind Creek, an assisted living facility and a tribal health clinic.

Henry said the new projects will benefit both PCI and the City of Atmore.

“We want it to be developed to where the Atmore area becomes a destination, not just a pass through,” Henry said. “We’d love to develop the town and develop the exits to where people want to come here, not just fill up on their way through.”

According to Henry, the travel center, which is slated as the first project to reach completion, will include 100 parking spots for 18-wheelers and room for six to eight commercial parcels. She added room will exist on the property for possible future parcel development or extended parking areas. Henry said her focus during the process of completing the projects will be commercial development.

“Retail development should be the push right now for economic development,” she said.

“Most small towns now are looking for retail development. We just don’t have the rooftops to be able to attract a whole lot of industrial development. We need the jobs, not to mention the tax dollars.”

Following work on the travel center and entertainment district, which is currently in the development stage, Henry said additions to Wind Creek would include bigger conference rooms, a convention center and more hotel rooms, which will require a second casino tower. Henry said Wind Creek, at its current size, draws an average of 10,000 people a day and an expansion would only serve to increase that number.

As of now, plans for the assisted living facility are not set in stone, Henry said.

“It’s going to be out at the tribe,” Henry said of the center’s location. “You just never know how that’s going to go. It’s still open for discussion until they decide just exactly how they’re going to structure that. We have mixed opinions on it as far as what seniors want and what will make it sustainable. It’s coming, the question is how they’re going to structure it.”

Henry said while a decision has not been made as to whether or not the assisted living facility would be open to non-tribal members, the new health facility would be open only to those on the tribe’s role and PCI employees.

“The health center is coming for sure,” she said. “Employees as well as tribal members can use that.”

Henry said other considerations for development have included a golf course and a school, but she added neither projects are currently in any stage of development.

“It’s been drawn in, but other things have also been talked about,” she said of the plan for a golf course. “Our customer profile for this area is not really business. It’s hunting and fishing. It’s not really a high rank on golfing. I’m not saying it’s not coming. I don’t know.”

Henry said ideas for a PCI school have been batted around, but plans are not currently pending.

“That’s in discussion,” she said. “There are tribal members that really want a school on the tribe again.”

Henry said a possible reason for holding off may be the economic issues that would come with building a school and cooperating with other entities to make sure children are properly prepared for the job market.

“That’s a hard issue for me to see, on the economic side anyway,” Henry said. “How do we get our children to graduate so that they’re ready to do something on a job? How do we get our education system up? Our area needs help with the education system. That’s one of those things they’re discussing. How do we do this?”

Henry said the tribe is currently focused on improving education for the community as a whole.

“They assisted this year by handing out some money to different schools,” she said. “But all in all we’ve got to, as a community, do something with education.”

Henry said as the next several years unfold,and projects are completed, the impact on the community should be very positive.
As of now, Henry said the tribe employs 1,703 people in their gaming industry, 216 with CIEDA and 305 in the government wing of PCI.

Henry said 90 percent of those employees are not tribal members and the need for employment from the Atmore area will only grow as the tribe does.