FLAGSTAFF - A Hopi village is developing a $92.5 million retail, lodging and commerce center that tribal officials hope will help capture millions of tourist dollars.
Named the "Gateway to Hopiland," the project in the Upper Village of Moenkopi will include a 100-room hotel and conference center, fast-food restaurants, a grocery store, art gallery and a building that could serve as a university branch on 72 acres across the highway from Tuba City, which is on the Navajo Nation.
Notably absent is a casino - the Hopi have consistently rejected gambling enterprises on their reservation.
A $6 million travel center with a car wash, gas station, convenience store and tax-free tobacco is already being built. More than 1 million drivers a year pass by the area, which is on U.S. 160 about 50 miles north of Flagstaff.
"This helps us at the village level, creates jobs, and it also provides opportunity for individuals to become entrepreneurs," said Dan Honahni, president and chief executive officer of Moenkopi Developers Corporation, Inc.
Honahni works directly for the Upper Village and is cobbling together loans from the tribe, private investors and federal agencies to finance the venture.
Outside companies repeatedly approached the tribe about building on the acreage, but the village instead hired consultants, wrote business plans, and opted to design and control the development itself, Honahni said.
"They were given an opportunity and they're stepping up. They're not waiting for someone else to make things happen," said Levi Esquerra, program director for Northern Arizona University's Center for American Indian Economic Development.
The Hopi Tribal Council set aside the land at the junction of highways 160 and 264 in 1981 for commercial use and gave the Moenkopi Developers seed money for business plans in 2002.
The group has built a $5 million sewage treatment plant and other infrastructure that will support the travel center and a police and fire station are planned.
The complex will provide jobs for Hopis who now have to travel miles to the nearest large employers.