While large, the sum is substantially smaller than the $35 million the tribe gave the LLC in March or the $25 million it approved in October 2020. Both of those allocations were for development of the 200-acre property the tribe purchased in 2019 along Interstate 40 in Sevier County, but the Nov. 4 resolution approving the $15 million did not specify what the money would fund. The original version also did not specify where the money would come from, but floor amendments approved that day stated it would come from the tribe’s investment accounts.
Prior to the Nov. 4 vote, Tribal Council held a closed session in which it discussed the projects Kituwah LLC is pursuing and would use the money for. However, that list is not yet public, said Kituwah CEO Mark Hubble.
“Because we are in active negotiations with outside parties and the uses of the equity were discussed in closed session, I cannot comment except to say that some portion of the funds will be used for theatre upgrades, including the introduction of reclining seating, as well as added food and entertainment options,” Hubble said.
The public discussion Nov. 4 focused on how the money might impact the Cherokee Phoenix Theater. Kituwah plans significant upgrades for the facility in response to changes in consumer expectations for the movie theater experience.
“Cinemas who do not (make these improvements), they’re just going to go away,” Hubble told Tribal Council. “We’ve seen that with AMC’s theaters. AMC bought some middle-class, lower theaters. Those are struggling. The ones that they upgraded are doing fine. This is a phenomenon that’s happening throughout the cinema industry, and it’s a necessary phenomenon, I think, to survive.”