BARAGA - Work is underway on a new gas station and convenience store meant to serve a variety of Keweenaw Bay Indian Community priorities.
According to Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Housing Authority executive director Eddy Edwards, interior renovations have begun on a previously vacant building at 818 N. Main St., L'Anse, and the authority hopes to have the station up and running by mid to late summer. The authority will be investing about $350,000 on infrastructure, building purchase and renovation.
Edwards said the station will provide convenience to less-served tribal members in the eastern portion of KBIC lands, as well as about six new jobs, with profits earmarked to support long-term operations at a new Zeba Community Hall, also set to open this summer.
"We're really looking forward to providing benefits to the other side of the bay," he said.
Construction of the 9,000 square-foot community hall will be funded with a $600,000 federal grant and $200,000 in matching tribal funds, Edwards said, but those funds can be used only for construction, not operations. The gas station profits will be used to pay for upkeep, basic operations and other long-term expenses.
"We don't want to just build something without maintaining it," he said. "It's part of our sustainable approach to providing more services and programs for our membership."
Edwards said the KBIC council has pledged to bring health clinics, youth programs, substance-abuse programs, food distributions and more to the new hall. Currently, tribal members from the eastern part of the reservation have to go to Baraga for any of those services.
The Housing Authority will largely follow the business model of another gas station it owns, the profitable Ojibwa BP in Baraga, Edwards said. Prices will be comparable to non-Indian-owned businesses, with savings from the tribe's tax-exempt status re-directed toward the community hall, other Housing Authority services such as maintenance of low-income housing units and helping employees improve their lives.
Tribal members will be given preference in hiring, and all employees will be eligible for annual profit sharing.
"If we make a profit, we share that on the back side," Edwards said. "Usually about 20 percent goes back to the employees."