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Shinnecocks OK measure to build 5-story hotel, conference center on tribal land

The electronic billboard erected by the Shinnecock Indian

The electronic billboard erected by the Shinnecock Indian Nation along Sunrise Highway in Southampton is shown on Saturday. Credit: John Roca

Shinnecock Indian Nation tribal members on Saturday approved two measures that could fuel an economic boom for the Southampton tribe, one to move forward with construction of a 200-room hotel-resort at the tribe’s Westwoods property in Hampton Bays.

A separate measure authorized tribal leaders to begin developing a gas station/travel plaza on 10 acres near their Sunrise Highway billboards.

Both measures promise to employ hundreds of tribal members and provide year-round revenue for the tribe, which has traditionally relied on its annual powwow to fund governmental operations. This year’s powwow, for the second year in a row, has been vastly scaled down and closed to outside visitors.

Saturday’s vote by tribal members was the first in a series of tribal green lights needed to develop the hotel and convention center, perhaps Long Island’s largest and the only one on the East End. The $250 million hotel and conference center would be developed in partnership with Woodglen Investments of New York City. It provides a land-use authorization for a tribal holding company to move forward with development.

The five-story, 200-room hotel would be the core of the facility, which would include a convention center in excess of 100,000 square feet. There also would be four villa-style hotel suites, a spa and wellness center, restaurants, retail and a technology incubator. The facility would be located on 20 acres on the northeast corner of the tribe’s Westwoods property, overlooking the Peconic Bay near the Shinnecock Canal.

"It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind facility and really our flagship business," said tribal chairman Bryan Polite. "It’s our pride and joy. It’s going to be a year-round resort. It will be good for the Shinnecock Nation, good for the local economy and good for New York."

The tribe’s economic development arm, Shinnecock Sovereign Holdings, has been vetting hotel proposals from bidders for months, and has discussed the general plan for a hotel with some public officials, who have been supportive, as have tribe members.

"We're looking for long-term, sustainable economic development and we see this as another step in that direction," said Taobi Silva, president of Shinnecock Sovereign Holdings. "For me it's about nongaming economic diversity."

The gas station vote was the final OK needed by tribal members to move forward with the project, which will be 100% tribally owned and operated, with an outside company helping to manage it.

Later this summer, the tribe also will vote on whether or not to authorize adult recreational marijuana sales from tribal shops on the Southampton reservation. The tribe has already approved a measure to allow for medical marijuana sales, and it has broken ground on a marijuana cultivation facility and a cannabis dispensary and wellness center on tribal land.

The sovereign, self-governing tribal nation has been working for several years to expand and diversify its economic base. Earlier this year it announced plans to open a class-2 casino on the reservation, after years of fruitless attempts to work with state and local lawmakers to open one off-reservation. It could be opened within two years, though the tribe is working with locals to find alternatives.

The Shinnecock tribe looks forward to working with local and state leaders, including incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul, on elements of its economic development that could require state cooperation, such as medical cannabis and the gas station, Polite said.

"We're hoping that with this change in administration there's a change in the approach from Albany," said Polite. "The Shinnecock Nation is willing and waiting to sit down with the new [Hochul] administration to work on our economic development projects and land rights."

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