After a process of over 16 years in the making, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has finally notice that 4.21 hectares surrounding the Mystery Lake Hotel will be granted status an urban reserve.
NCN has already owned the Mystery Lake Hotel for nearly 20 years, but has sought urban reserve status in order to increase flexibility and opportunities to develop the property. The City of Thompson approved NCN’s plan for an urban reserve in 2005, but had not received official federal approval until April 22 of this year.
“It gives us a lot of opportunities for increased revenue, to expand our portfolio, and create new opportunities for our people,” NCN Chief Marcel Moody explains. NCN will be working with consultants to determine the most economically beneficial opportunities for the property. NCN’s website currently suggests plans for an office complex, though Moody is less certain: “The capital cost is high, and the turnaround isn’t as quick as we would like.” Moody notes that a gas station will be the most likely priority for the property prior to additional consultation.
Of course, NCN will continue to operate the Mystery Lake Hotel, though opportunities surrounding the hotel will also be enhanced: Moody notes, for example, that the lion’s share of VLT revenues (90 per cent) will now remain with the nation, rather than only 20 per cent as city property (80 per cent of VLT revenues were paid to the province to be redistributed).
But while NCN’s priority is to expand opportunities for its own nation (whose Thompson residents, according to Moody, number between 300-400), he stresses that the venture is a partnership with the city where both parties stand to benefit. “It’s not all about us. We have a vested interest in maintaining the economic viability of Thompson. The more people we can attract to Thompson, the better it is for both NCN and for Thompson.”
City manager Gary Ceppetelli agrees: from the city’s perspective, he could hardly muster up a downside to the development. As part of the arrangement, the City of Thompson and NCN have entered a Municipal Development Service Agreement: municipal bylaws will continue to be enforced, and taxes otherwise not paid by NCN will be substituted with a grant-in-lieu.
“They’ll still have to go through the process of building permits and that sort of thing. As a municipality, there’s really no change from our perspective,” notes Ceppetelli, “But it provides those other economic opportunities that may have not happened. To us, we’re all about ensuring we’re growing the community.”
The federal approval process has taken over 10 years; though Ceppetelli noted that he recalls many urban reserves taking considerably less time, neither he nor Moody could identify any clear roadblocks in the process. However, “The work and support we received from the region was phenomenal. Everyone wanted to get this thing done, but it just didn’t materialize like we hoped it would.”
In partnership with Keewatin Tribal Council, NCN will continue to consider the possibility of a casino in Thompson, though Moody notes that this plan is still shaky: “There’s a moratorium on building a casino on our property, but working with the City of Thompson, maybe we can still build a casino here in Thompson somewhere. We haven’t made a commitment one way or another.” NCN and KTC are currently undertaking a joint viability study to determine whether Thompson can profitably support a casino in the first place.