Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) chief and council were at the Mystery Lake Hotel in Thompson April 12 discussing future development plans for the property, which finally received urban reserve status last summer, 14 years after NCN bought the hotel.
The first addition planned for the property is a gas station and convenience store, NCN Chief Marcel Moody told the Nickel Belt News.
“We’re going to proceed with a new gas station here to offer tax-free gas to aboriginal people and so that’s phase one of the plan,” said Moody. “We are going to pursue the gas station as soon as possible. We have to come up with some conceptual [ideas], some designs, but basically we’re ready to go with the gas station. We hope to start construction, maybe award the contract within the month and hopefully start the construction probably at the end of May, early June.”
Moody says the prospect of instant gas and tobacco tax rebates will be a draw for aboriginal customers but that the success of the business, like that of the NCN-owned Family Foods supermarket in the Thompson Plaza, will require drawing in non-aboriginal customers, too.
“I think that’s a huge market for aboriginal customers here in Thompson, basically catering to our people,” Moody said. “That’s the market we’re targeting but obviously the more people we have, the more customers, the better.”
For NCN chief and council, just opening the gas station is not enough. They also want to make sure that it is comparable to other competitors in Thompson.
“We want to develop this property properly. We want to design it properly. We want a state-of-the-art building. We want to do it right,” said Moody. “I think that’s really important for us. We want to show Thompson that we mean business. We’re serious about how our businesses develop and succeed over time and we want to be a main competitor here in Thompson. We’ve been active in this market for a number of years since we bought the hotel so we want to expand those, diversify our economy here in Thompson and expand it to other regions in the near future.”
Other plans for the future include refurbishment of NCN’s already-established businesses on their urban reserve.
“We want to upgrade our hotel, especially our restaurant and bar,” Moody said. “We have some ideas like a pharmacy and maybe a convention centre, bingo place, maybe a retail outlet, we’re not quite sure.”
One idea that’s no longer being considered is the possibility of developing a casino on the property.
“We entertained the idea of a casino here but we did a [feasibility] study,” Moody says. “The study determined that a casino in Thompson’s not viable and we’re also restricted by the municipal service agreement whereby we weren’t allowed to build a casino on that property anyway. When we did the study, it basically determined that a casino in Thompson’s not viable so that’s a non-issue anymore.”
The process of establishing an urban reserve in Thompson was exceedingly long, but Moody says it was worth the wait and that he feels that NCN has established itself as a First Nation that achieves what it sets out to do.
“We want to be a service leader for our clients and improve the image of NCN because when we started this whole process of buying the Mystery Lake Hotel property, converting the property, people thought this facility, these businesses, are not going to succeed, they’re going to be run-down facilities,” he says. “We were considered as rabble-rousers throughout the whole process but we’re holding our own. We want to prove people wrong. Everything that we do we’ve got to prove ourselves twice over. Unfortunately that’s the way it is but that’s what we have to do.”
NCN is determined to play a role in the economy of Thompson now and in the future and to work with the city to the benefit of both parties.
“I think the City of Thompson has been really excellent as a partner in this whole initiative,” said Moody. “We have nothing but praise for the previous mayor Tim Johnston and [current mayor] Dennis Fenske. They’ve been really supportive and we acknowledge them as well. I think it’s a good relationship. It’s working well and we support each other.”
Moody says that for NCN, as for any community, province or country, the key to success is economic development.
“That’s fundamentally a key to our survival because we have so many programs and projects that we have to do in Nelson House and we need outside resources to fund all these things that we need in our community for our people and that’s the driving force behind what we do,” said Moody.