ZUNI PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) – An entire neighborhood dating back to the mid-1900s is being remodeled. Down the street, children are running through the halls of a new state-of-the-art school while the community's older residents are celebrating a newly built senior citizen center.

There's a building boom going on throughout Zuni Pueblo, signs that economic development has found its way to the western New Mexico tribal community.

“That was our focus when we ran for office, that we wanted economic development,” Zuni Councilwoman Virginia Chavez said during a recent interview.

Chavez, who retired from the Zuni Public School District after a 30-year career, ran for office in 2014. She recalled early on during her first year in office when Loren Thomas visited the Zuni Tribal Council and asked for support to expand his family business to include a shopping center.

“I was overjoyed,” Chavez said. “I really wanted that here at Zuni, and we wholeheartedly supported it.”

With a population of about 12,000 residents, Zuni is the most populated pueblo in New Mexico. However, officials have said that as much as 80 percent of income in the community goes to border towns or nearby cities.

Along State Highway 53, men in heavy-duty boots and hard hats worked at erecting a new supermarket – a 15,000-squarefoot facility that will include a deli and large parking lot. A Gallup bank is financing the project with a $2.75 million loan, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development is providing a guarantee for the loan. The supermarket is scheduled to open later this year.

With the opening of a bigger supermarket, Chavez and other tribal officials hope to keep more money from leaving the pueblo.

A new airport with a longer runway that can accommodate the emergency landing of larger planes also is being built just a few miles from Zuni. About 90 percent of the $5.5 million construction costs were allocated by the Federal Aviation Administration, 5 percent from the state, and the remaining 5 percent from the tribe.

Earlier this year, the tribe contracted the services of Klas Robinson, a financial firm that provides market research, to prepare an economic development study. Zuni Pueblo Gov. Val Panteah said the preliminary report is in and there are plans for a more comprehensive review that includes a traffic study.

“Hopefully, it gives us an idea as far as what we can develop here,” Panteah said.

In the past year, the Zuni Tribal Council has also created an investment committee.

Panteah said Morgan Stanley was recently contacted to manage the pueblo's investments.

“Without being a gaming tribe, we got to look at every opportunity and way to generate revenues,” Panteah said.

While the pueblo has been traditionally against developing casinos on the reservation, the previous administration sought a gaming compact with New Mexico in 2014 and the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved it in August 2015.

Tribal authorities said there are no plans to open a casino in Zuni. Former Zuni Gov. Arlen Quetawki, who is now a tribal councilman, said in 2015 the pueblo had been leasing its share of slot machines to other tribes in southern Arizona.


Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com