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Moenkipi Development opens travel center on Hopi

By Stan Bindell
Moenkopi, Arizona (NFIC) 6-08

Moenkopi Travel Center held a grand opening during May as it unfurled a complex that can bring an economic boost to the area. The travel center includes a convenience store, a gas station, the Tuuvi Cafe, Taco del Mar, a carwash and four Native American artisan shops. The complex is owned by the Moenkopi Development Corp., which is an arm of Upper Moenkopi Village.

The travel center is located at the intersection of Arizona 264 and U.S. Rt. 160. The travel center was financed by $6.3 million. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development gave $1.2 million, the U.S. Department of Agriculture supplied $199,000 and the Moenkopi Development Corp. borrowed $4.67 million from Compass Bank.

The grand opening was preceded the previous night with a food tasting event, but this may be just the first taste of booming business for the area.

Daniel Honahni, president and chief executive officer for Moenkopi Development Corp., said he has received nothing but positive feedback about the travel center opening and all the business that is expected to follow.

Honanhi, a member of the Hopi Tribe, said the goal is to create jobs and opportunities for Hopi people. He said the Hopi Tribe will make money off a loan to the Moenkopi Development Corp. and the revenue will eventually bring more money to Moenkopi.

Levi Esquerra, program director for the Center for American Indian Economic Development at Northern Arizona University, shares Honahni’s excitement. He said this is a model for all tribes for creating an economic development corporation in order to get money-making projects going.

Esquerra, a member of the Chimeheuvi Tribe, said each of these economic projects will create momentum for the next project as there are several more phases planned. “It’s great anytime you’re able to create jobs and opportunities and give entrepreneurs a chance to sell their wares,” he said. “It’s a nice clean place and it’s the western entrance to the Hopi Reservation.” Esquerra said the center has helped the Moenkopi Development Corp. with a feasibility study and will continue to lend technical assistance. Esquerra said this economic complex will allow more tribal members to get their education and come back to the reservation to work.

“It’s great when tribal members get educated. It’s even better when they get their education and can come back to help,” he said. Esquerra said Honahni is an excellent example of this because Honahni has an Ivy League education and he has been able to use that education to help with this economic project.

“He’s created momentum and others will follow,” he said. Honahni invites everyone to check out the travel center. “We have clean large restrooms,” he said. Honahni said it took one year to put the funding in place, but that came on the heels of building a $5.3 million wastewater treatment plant. That was necessary in order to have all the hookups available for these businesses. The $5.3 million came from several grants and a $1.5 million loan from the Hopi Tribe.

Aside from setting up the wastewater system, the Moenkopi Development Corp. also has 56 acres at the travel center and all of it has passed environmental assessments so it is available for the Moenkopi Development Corp. to use for businesses.

Honahni said leaders from several other villages say they wish they could get something similar going in their villages. He said the big difference is most of the other villages have problems with land issues. He said Upper Moenkopi Village created a land use plan in 2001 that made the land available and limited land use conflicts.

Honahni is excited about the economic stimulus this will bring to Moenkopi, the Hopi Tribe and the surrounding area. But much more is planned. The next phase plans a 100 room hotel with a conference center. The funding for this project has gone out to bid.

“If everything is properly followed up, construction will begin in July and can be finished by June of next year,” Honahni said. That would be followed by a business and education center – a three-story building that would be 40,000 square feet. The major tenant would be a bank, but there would be room for other businesses to rent. There would also be space for any universities that want to use it. The application for the funding for the business and education center will go out by the end of June and an answer should be known by late November.

After that there are plans for a cultural interpretive center and an apartment with 60-90 units. The board members on the Moenkopi Development Corp. are Wilfred Moore, Linda Honahni, Leroy Sakiestewa and Daniel Honahni.