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Council sets hearing to address giving Nansemonds land for tourist attraction

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SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) - The Nansemond Indian tribe's six-year quest to build a tourist attraction got a boost when a majority of members of the Suffolk City Council expressed support for the project, including giving the tribe 104 acres of public land.

''If we're going to have tourism in Suffolk, this is our opportunity,'' Mayor Linda Johnson said during a meeting to discuss the Mattanock Town project.

The tribe wants to build the $8 million project on part of Lone Star Lakes, a city-owned park on the Nansemond River. The attraction would include a replica 1600s-era village, burial ground and museum.

The Nansemond tribe is one of eight Indian tribes recognized by the state. Four centuries ago, about 1,200 members lived in four villages on the Nansemond River in what is now Suffolk.

After years of conflict be-tween the city and tribal leaders over the project - much of it over whether Suffolk would give the tribe land outright - the July 18 meeting appeared to mark a high point in the tribe's effort to garner City Council support.

A public hearing on the project is scheduled for Aug. 15.

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Two council members spoke generally against the project, which is significant because six of the seven council members must approve it to sell or give away city land.

Council member Charles Brown questioned the fairness of giving one group land while others also may want city land for projects.

''We're going to raise big turbulence in this city when you begin to give land away,'' he said.

Councilman Leroy Bennett also had concerns about the location and sewer and water service. Brown and Bennett voted against holding the August public hearing.

Nansemond Chief Barry Bass said the tribe would seek private donations and government grants to pay for the project, which would not include gaming operations.

The tribe's business plan says Mattanock Town would be built in phases, open in 2011 and attract 50,000 visitors a year. He said that if the project failed, the land would revert back to the city.