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Ground broken for long-awaited trading post on Immokalee Reservation

From left, Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee general manager Tony Alves, Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress, Immokalee Council Liaison Ray Garza, President Mitchell Cypress, Immokalee resident Jeanie Nelson, Big Cypress Board Rep Joe Frank, Immokalee resident Linda Beletso, Immokalee Board Liaison Rafael Sanchez and Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon ‘Ollie’ Wareham officially break the ground for the Immokalee Trading Post April 29, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

IMMOKALEE –  The wait is over for the Immokalee Reservation.

Decades after first being floated as an idea, a trading post will finally be built on the reservation. Ground was broken April 29 during a small ceremony that featured elected officials and residents.

President Mitchell Cypress speaks during the Immokalee Trading Post groundbreaking ceremony April 29, 2021, in Immokalee. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“It took us a long time to get it rolling,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “The original idea was made in the early 2000s. We started pursuing it about 10 years ago and got it on the books a couple of years ago. We had to hit the reset button a couple of times, but the community is happy to see it.”

The trading post will join the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc.’s other trading posts in Hollywood and Brighton, which have been operating for several years.  

The Immokalee Trading Post will feature 10 gas pumps, five electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and a 7,200-square-foot convenience store. The dispensers will offer regular, mid-grade, premium, diesel and Rec90 fuel. The plans include two canopies; one in the front for regular vehicles and small trucks, and one in the back for semi-trucks and recreational vehicles. The trading post will work with the nearby Seminole Casino Hotel and accept players’ points for gas and items inside the store.

“Everyone needs a gas station,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “Whatever stumbling blocks they threw in front of us, the shovels are ready today.”

Immokalee Council Liaison Ray Garza remembered when tribal kids on their four-wheelers were stopped by police on their way to get gas at a nearby station. The reservation’s residents will no longer have to go onto the main road to fuel up because the trading post will be accessible without leaving the reservation. 

“Council gave us the seed money to start this,” Garza said. “The county gave us a lot of hurdles to jump, but the money was still there.”

“This is a big day for Immokalee,” added Immokalee Board Liaison Rafael Sanchez. “The shovels go in the ground today and by the end of the year it will be done.”

Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank, left, and Immokalee Board Liaison Rafael Sanchez pose April 29, 2021, by the heavy equipment that will be used to construct the trading post in Immokalee., (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Construction is expected to be completed in seven months, or by the end of November, according to Mauro Laguzzi, project manager.

“We believe it will provide a valuable asset to the community and the tribe,” said Golden Johansson, Board executive director of operations. “We were able to work through the pandemic and finalize the plans.”

Those plans include a dedicated tobacco counter in the store, as well as a beer cave, 15 coolers for beverages and dairy items and three more for frozen seasonal foods. A coffee and food service counter rounds out the store.

The site will feature 27 parking spaces, four handicapped spots and two for trailer parking. The trading post will be accessible by two main entrances and exits on Immokalee Road and two secondary ones for direct community access.

“Joe (Frank) and Ralph (Sanchez) put their hearts into this project, even during Covid,” said Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon “Ollie” Wareham. “By putting those shovels in the ground, the Board kept every promise.”

About a dozen community members turned out for the groundbreaking, but stayed in their cars and listened to the ceremony on a dedicated FM radio site.

“This is a source of community and tribal pride,” Rep. Frank said. “And it will offer casino patrons a good, clean store to go to.”

Immokalee Council Liaison Ray Garza, left, and Immokalee Board Liaison Rafael Sanchez move some dirt during the Immokalee Trading Post groundbreaking April 29, 2021. The dirt in the two boxes were brought from the construction site nearby, which not suitable for a public ceremony. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
The floor plan of the interior of the Immokalee Trading Post was displayed during the groundbreaking ceremony. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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