Tahlequah Daily Press

January 15, 2013

CN council learns of land buys

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors on Monday learned of several of local property purchases recently made by Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Acquisitions include about 175 acres known as Berry farm, upon which Cherry Springs Golf Course is situated; 113 acres adjoining the W.W. Keeler Complex near the tribe’s existing golf course; and the Oak Creek Village Shopping Center south of Tahlequah on U.S. Highway 62.

During his state of the nation address, Principal Chief Bill John Baker lauded CNB’s purchases.

“Cherokee Nation Businesses is the proud new owner of probably the last large tract of land in Tahlequah called the Berry farm,” said Baker. “For the past 30 to 40 years, every developer who has come to Tahlequah has lusted for this property. It has not been for sale in my lifetime, but in what turned out to be the perfect storm, the [Berry] family wanted to divest themselves, it came up for sale, and the team at CNB purchased the property. They got it cheaper than originally thought, and it includes a golf course, to boot.”

Baker said the shopping center sold for $1 million, and CNB will turn the closing over to Cherokee Nation.

“Since the shopping center’s construction, it has never been fully occupied,” said Baker. “We’ll be closing on the property and plan to put health programs in it.”

Plans for the 113 acres adjoining the complex include a firing range for the tribe’s marshal service, and 34 acres to be used for citizen housing.

In a special meeting in late December, tribal councilors amended the General Corporation Act, allowing CNB to make purchases up to $15 million without council approval. The act previously capped purchases at $6 million.

The Berry property purchase – estimated at $8 million – raised eyebrows, because Bob Berry, who owned nearly 25 percent of the Cherry Springs property, sits on the board of directors for CNB. But Berry recused himself from discussion and voting on the purchase.

Last year, a similar situation arose when the tribe bought the American Woodmark property from Scott Wright, principal broker for Century 21 Wright Real Estate; Wright’s wife, Tommye, also sits on the CNB board.

Councilor Cara Cowan-Watts asked CNB CEO Shawn Slaton about the flurry of real estate deals.

“We’ve had several land deals announced tonight that I had no prior knowledge of,” said Watts. “Can we get some details? I still don’t have the information on the Berry property, including exactly how much we paid for it.”

Slaton said a press release had gone out on the Berry property purchase, and that he’d be happy to get Cowan-Watts more details.

“Also, it’s probably scuttlebutt, but I’ve heard it from several people, including out at Cherry Springs, so I have to ask: Are we having discussions with outside firms – like Harrah’s – to manage our casinos?” Cowan-Watts asked.

Slaton denied that CNB was involved in any such negotiations.

“I’m so glad to hear that, and we’ll nip that rumor in the bud,” said Cowan-Watts.

Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. commended CNB for the recent purchases, and the council for raising the spending cap.

“As you know, we raised the spending cap on property purchases,” said Hoskin. “Frankly, I think the golf course is a great investment. We have confidence in you, with specific regard to that property transaction, or we wouldn’t have raised the cap.”

In other business, the council approved a resolution confirming the nomination of Buck George as a board member of CNB. George is the son-in-law of Judge Lynn Burris, and the cousin of CN Speaker of the Council Tina Glory-Jordan.

“When his name was sent over, I called the chief’s office and said, ‘You’ve nominated a good man, but he’s my cousin,’” said Glory-Jordan. “We did some checking, and got approval through the attorney general’s office, and my understanding is I can participate in the voting.”

George, who attended Monday night’s meeting, thanked Baker for the nomination and the council for the confirmation.

“The nation is really growing,” said George. “I think this is a wonderful opportunity.”