New village shows progress

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WINNEBAGO, Neb. - It is all coming together for the new Ho-Chunk Village.

More than two years ago the village was just an idea, a somewhat
far-fetched idea at that. But because the Winnebago Reservation, like so
many others, is fighting diabetes and other health issues and it seemed
likely that a high-density walking community would be beneficial. So it was
created.

Dollar General opened in February 2004, and a building for retail shops and
six apartments is nearly complete; next will be an artists' guild building
and the new BIA headquarters.

The design plans were created a little more than two years ago,
groundbreaking started that spring and today four homes and four buildings
sit on the 40-acre site.

Home building has been slower that expected, said Lance Morgan, CEO of
Ho-Chunk, Inc, the parent company developing the project. Most of the
financing is done through grants that go through the Ho-Chunk Community
Development Corp., overseer of the project.

Home sales are not as rapid as first expected, said Judi Meyer, executive
director of HCCDC. She said the down payment may be a problem; even though
there are funds to help, more may be needed. A housing unit on the south of
Winnebago that is a rent-to-own project is doing some homebuilding.

"We are not discouraged at all," Myers said.

The new village, however, offers the chance to own a home and the land so
that a family may begin to acquire some equity and pass down property to
heirs - impossible on trust land. The new housing south of town is not
taking potential home buyers away from the new village, Myers said.

The village was originally conceived as a walking village. Soon the first
phase of the path will be completed from the village to the school, which
is on an opposite corner from the village, across a highway.

New and existing businesses are invited to open in the mini-mall or another
location. To help would-be business owners, Myers said classes that provide
the nuts and bolts of business are available. HCCDC offers business
planning classes and also groups and organizations with planning and fund
raising.

At present, Ho-Chunk, Inc., developer of several businesses, has a
warehouse in use. A building that will be completed this summer will house
Allnations.com, an Internet retail business owned by Ho-Chunk, Inc. The new
building will have storage and a retail space.

A mini-mall with housing can accommodate a family cafe, hairdresser and a
sports or clothing shop; Myers said they would like to see a bank. Above
the mini-mall will be six apartments, all currently rented.

Commercial ventures may find success at the location, on a major highway
with easy access. The Dollar General store has met projected sales, Myers
said.

For families that would like to become homeowners, courses in financial
skills are offered. Myers said some Winnebago residents were on Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and most had never used a checking
account, so basic money management classes are offered by HCCDC.

To interest youth in a career or job path and eventually become homeowners,
HCCDC and the public school system offer incentives with educational
motifs. HCCDC organized a computer club to take computer skills that would
integrate with business needs to a higher level, such as creating Web
sites. The club is hosted by HCCDC with Brandon Stout, technical manager
for HCCDC, as instructor.

Students in the high school and middle school who are interested in
business are placed in the computer club. HCCDC purchased laptop computers
to train the students.

An artists' facility will open this summer to provide artists of all
disciplines a location to create and sell their work. This will be a
cooperative and Myers said half of the funding is in place. The facility
will also offer classrooms so those who wish to improve their artwork or
learn from scratch can be taught by professionals and well-established
artists.

As with much of the village, unknowns entered the plans and the vision, but
so far it has mostly been successful. Myers said the concept of the
artists' guild was so new that she didn't know if it would "take off."

The art facility will have retail and wholesale components.

A Boys and Girls Club will be completed in 2007 and the BIA facility will
be open in 2006. The BIA superintendent's office is currently a few miles
outside of Winnebago.

This densely-packed village is designed under the "new urbanism" concept:
multi-residential with single and multiple family homes, and incorporated
businesses and services close by to enable walking to once again establish
a healthy lifestyle.

The old village of Winnebago will be connected by a walking path to the new
village and will be close enough so that residents may stroll to the new
facilities. Residents of the new village also will be able to walk to the
IHS hospital and clinic at the old village's southern end.

Funding for this project has come from foundations and corporations,
Community Block Grants, USDA and Rural Housing. Myers said it will be more
difficult to acquire funding from the federal government, especially from
programs that offer grants, due to budget cuts.

In the future, a $24 million apartment complex and an assisted living
facility are planned. Myers said her group is in the planning mode for the
project.

The first public meeting on the project was held in February 2003. Myers
said more public meetings to discuss the progress of the village will be
held. "We want to bring the people into the loop, and follow the progress
every couple of years," she said.

According to the HCCDC Web site, its mission is to raise the socio-economic
and educational levels for Native American Communities. The organization
has established four primary areas of focus; commercial development;
business and technology training; community and youth, and housing
development.

HCCDC is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. To follow the progress of the
village, visit www.hochunkcdc.org.