What do you do when you have almost 48 acres of prime, vacant land adjacent to your tribe’s casino? The Ho-Chunk Nation in Madison, Wisconsin, had considered building a big-box retail store, an industrial park and maybe even corporate headquarters there.
“But what bubbled to the top was a sports complex, cultural center and entertainment venue,” said Daniel Brown, executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, and one of the driving forces behind a proposal that he emphasizes is still in its very early stages of development. “These are simply ideas at this point that are being discussed.”
By “discussed,” Brown means that he and other Ho-Chunk representatives have already met with Mayor Paul Soglin, as well as other planning and park executives from the state. The tribe says it needs more than the nearly 48 acres it owns to develop the type of sports complex Brown envisions. “The city of Madison owns a 36-hole golf course that abuts to our land … so they will have to make a decision on whether they want to surrender some of the holes for the project,” Brown explained.
“While the vision and plans are still in the very early stages, Madison Parks believes this is an excellent opportunity to partner with the Ho-Chunk Nation,” said Ann Shea, public information officer for Madison Parks.
Brown and Shea both agree that Madison, and nearby communities are in need of a major sports facility that would provide indoor and outdoor fields for local youth soccer, lacrosse and rugby teams, which they claim are in short supply. Brown believes a collaboration between the city and the tribe will have a positive impact on both their economies.
“We are literally at the gateway to Madison as you are traveling westbound 94 from Chicago. So the vision for both of us is that we have a magnificent sports facility that is hopefully a regional and national attraction,” Brown told ICTMN.
It is the collaborative spirit between the city and the tribe that really excites Brown. “I envision this as being a model for other Native and municipality relationships. For me, that would be one of the major victories in all of this, that we develop a genuine, good relationship with the city, and that we are able to collaborate on a significant economic development initiative.”
According to Brown, relations between the city of Madison and the Ho-Chunks have been strained in the past. “I can’t really speak to them, but I know there have been some difficulties. However a lot of the officials from the past -- ours and the city’s -- are no longer around, so there is a much more open approach now,” he said.
An immediate goal for building a better relationship with city and county officials is to debunk some long-held myths about Natives. “One that stands out is that we are trying to buy back the state with our land holdings,” or that the Ho-Chunks want to build another casino, said Brown.
Daniel Brown, executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison
If the Ho-Chunks don’t get the blessing from the city for the sports complex, Brown said they will strongly consider developing just the entertainment center and museum. “The cultural center is a huge priority because we lack that right now. It’s an opportunity for us to tell our story and continue to educate people that we are the original inhabitants, not just of Madison, but of a large swath of Wisconsin and Northern Illinois,” he explained. “We want to remind people that we are still here.”
Next steps? The tribe is in research mode right now, working with architects and urban planning consultants, and talking to other tribes that have built similar cultural centers.
Lynn Armitage is a contributing business writer to Indian Country Today Media Network. She is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.