FORKS — The Hoh Tribe is increasing its presence in Forks as a property owner.
The tribe recently completed the fourth of four building and land purchases totalling $907,412 dating back to August 2016, according to Clallam County property acquisition records.
The latest acquisition was Peninsula College’s former West End classroom building at 71 S. Forks Ave. for $265,000, finalized Oct. 27, according to the quit-claim deed.
In August and September 2016, the tribe also made three other purchases, according to Clallam County records:
• Buildings and property at 41 S. Forks Ave., site of a former mini-mall, and property at 25 E. Division St., for a combined $230,023.
• Property and the building that housed the former JT’s Sweet Stuffs ice cream, espresso and sandwich shop at 80 N. Forks Ave., for $135,889.
• A duplex at 281 Wood Ave. for $276,500.
Melvinjohn Ashue, the tribe’s economic development director and tribal council vice chair, said Thursday that tribal officials have not decided what businesses will be established at the sites.
That determination will become clearer after a feasibility study is completed, possibly by mid-2018, said Ashue, 37, a Forks High School graduate and Forks resident.
A retail venture is a possibility “because it would be for the people that are already there in the community,” he said.
“Definitely, housing is an issue.”
A casino, though, is out of the question.
“It takes a lot to operate a casino and it’s not something we are looking to do in the future, especially in Forks,” Ashue said.
The goal is “to get something started in Forks that benefits the Forks community as well as bringing in income to the Hoh Tribe,” he said.
“Those buildings have been sitting for years empty and not doing anything.”
The tribe, with about 270 members, has its reservation 30 miles south of Forks, Ashue said.
“I see the Hoh Tribe being a major part of Forks, trying to build a bridge there from the Hoh Tribe to the Forks community,” he said.
The former classroom building, which included a computer lab for students, is being temporarily used by tribal administrative staff. The staff members are taking advantage of internet service that is far superior to the service on the reservation.
“Our internet at the Hoh reservation is pretty horrible,” Ashue said.
Ashu met about seven weeks ago with Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck, Small Business Development Center coordinator Kevin Hoult and Clallam County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Bob Schroeter, Fleck said.
“We’ve worked in the past with the Quileute and the Hoh tribe on different things,” Fleck said Thursday.
“If there’s a building that’s vacant, and someone is using it as a business, that’s a good thing.”
Funding to buy the Wood Avenue duplex came from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ashu said.
Funding for the Peninsula College site and the other properties was drawn from the tribe’s economic development fund.
Ashue said the fund is made up of gaming revenue the tribe generates by leasing Hoh-0wned gaming machines to other tribes, not including the Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam tribes, which have casinos.
“We had economic funding set aside, waiting to be used,” said Ashue, who was hired about 18 months ago to the economic development director position.
“We started looking at the difference of actually building on the reservation and the time it would take, and the process we would have to go through to get that done, are a little more strict than buying a place outside the reservation,” he said.
Building on the reservation would require federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approval “and going through that loop,” Ashue said.
“It was just easier to buy off the reservation.”
There are pros and cons to the options open to the tribe on what the buildings will be used for, Ashue said.
“We looked at restaurants, but the issue with that is there are eight or nine other restaurants in Forks.
“Competing with restaurants there is touchy.”
Tourism-related business dies out in the winter, and employees have to be laid off, Ashue added.
“That really doesn’t benefit anybody,” he said.
The feasibility study will be reviewed by the tribal economic development board and the tribal council before decisions are made on what will occupy the tribe’s new property, Ashue said.
“We’ve been here since time immemorial, Forks has been here since the late 1800s,” he said.
“We want to build this relationship and work with Forks and be able to not only help the community succeed but also our tribal members to have better opportunity.”
Schroeter said the Quileute Tribe has traditionally had a stronger presence in Forks than the Hoh.
This is an opportunity for the Hoh to rebuild their tribal relationship with Forks, he said.
“When I say rebuild, it’s from a historical perspective of geography,” Schroeter said.
“This is a great opportunity to move forward with a new partnership.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].