Madison and the Ho-Chunk Nation see a tribal cultural center and major sports complex with indoor and outdoor fields, lighting and grandstands as keys to a rare collaboration to develop city and tribal lands on the Southeast Side.
Details are still to come, but the sides are voicing optimism and see momentum for a collaboration between sides that have had strained relations in the past. The effort also could include lodging, entertainment and retail, mostly on the tribe’s property.
The tribe is working with city officials, neighboring property owners and others to identify and shape potential uses for almost 48 acres next to its Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison casino, near the Beltline-Interstate interchange.
The city also has considerable holdings in the area, including the 36-hole Yahara Hills golf course on 451 acres and two undeveloped sites: 82.2 acres envisioned for a community park and a 43.5-acre parcel with no identified use.
Since an April memo from the tribe made concepts public, the sides are advancing discussions on how a collaboration might work in terms of land ownership, who would develop and own what, wetlands, timing, transportation and other matters.
“You’ll never see another development opportunity like this in the city of Madison,” city parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. “It’s very unique. We’d be foolish and foolhardy not to partner.”
The effort comes after city and tribal relations sometimes strained over issues related to the casino.
“This is huge, not just in Madison and the state but for Indian country as well,” said Missy Tracy, municipal relations coordinator for Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison.
The tribe and city staff are scheduled to give an informational report on preliminary findings to the city Park Commission on Wednesday evening.
In 2014, the tribe hired a local planning firm, Urban Assets, to help identify potential uses for its property, which includes two parking areas for the casino and 44 open acres. The process included meetings with city and business officials.
The idea is to develop something unique to Madison on a key gateway to the city, and not compete with existing local facilities. The tribe has spent recent months studying and visiting operations in other states, such as Chicksaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma, and the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.
“We’re being very deliberative,” said Daniel Brown, Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison general manager. “We’re sort of inching along.”
So far, a heritage center serving as a permanent location to commemorate the tribe’s culture and history and a sports complex seem to be key elements of the project, with the most detail emerging on possibilities for the latter.
A potential sports complex could have eight to 16 multipurpose fields for soccer, rugby, ultimate (aka ultimate Frisbee), and lacrosse, parks facilities operations manager Charlie Romines said.
The offerings could include two or more indoor fields under a bubble or more permanent structure, two to six outdoor artificial turf fields, and one or two high-quality, low-use natural grass fields that would be unique to the region, Romines said. Some fields would be lit and could have grandstands. One possibility has the city handling outdoor fields and the tribe the indoor facilities.
“There’s a lot of things to work out,” Knepp said.
The city is already moving to make the Yahara Hills golf course more of a year-round facility through cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other activities and improvements to the clubhouse, Romines said. The development would also tie to a community park on some of the city acreage that could offer ice skating, playgrounds and shelters.
Concepts for lodging — a hotel seems likely — entertainment and retail are still under discussion, although both sides say they have no desire for a waterpark.
The tribe anticipates having a conceptual master plan to share with city staff by late summer.
The ideas come as the state considers changes to the main entrance to the area — the dangerous intersection of Mill Pond Road and Highway 12-18 on the north side of the properties.