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Tribe purchases land near Brighton, Immokalee reservations

Recent real estate purchases by the tribe include Lakeport Ranch next to the Brighton Reservation. (Courtesy photo)

The Seminole Tribe’s Sovereign Wealth Fund purchased a few parcels of land in September 2021 near the Brighton and Immokalee reservations.

The purchases, which were made through its Seminole Real Estate Fund, or SemREF, include the 2,240- acre cattle land formerly known as the Lakeport Ranch, just east and southeast of the Brighton Reservation with one and a half miles of frontage on State Road 78. The site has been renamed Rio Ranch Sweetgrass.

“We talked to Culture about the name and they thought it was a good one,” said Jonathan Levy, director of the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

SemREF is the division of the Sovereign Wealth Fund that makes real estate investments. The fund’s mission is to invest in core real estate investments to enhance the intergenerational wealth of the tribe.

Levy said the tribe has begun the fee-to-trust application process, which means the Department of the Interior places land into trust on behalf of the tribe, similar to the tribe’s 2019 purchase of the McDaniel Ranch just north of the reservation.

Before Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) fast-tracked the process, it could take about 10 years to get land into trust status. Levy said he has stayed on top of the process by requesting monthly calls between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the tribe.

“As soon as we did that, we started seeing real motion and activity on the McDaniel property,” Levy said. “We went from step two to step 12 in just a few months. The BIA expects to have [McDaniel] completed before the end of the fiscal year in September 2022. I’m glad to see they think this is as big a priority for the tribe as we do.”

Indian Camp in Immokalee can be seen here in this aerial photo. (Courtesy photo)

Alex Johns, executive director of the tribe’s Agriculture department, will manage the Rio Ranch Sweetgrass property. Johns said he plans to keep it maintained and in a pristine state by doing regular maintenance. The ranch contains 12 main pastures and some cow pens.

“The tribe will have cows here to maintain the grass,” Johns said. “I’m glad the tribe is diversifying its real estate holdings. Land appreciates and there is a lot of value in that. For it to appreciate, you can’t let it degrade. It’s cattle property.”

The tribe also purchased two properties in Immokalee: the S.T. Immokalee property and the Indian Camp. The S.T. Immokalee parcel is about 32 acres adjacent to the rodeo grounds on the Immokalee Reservation. The land is commercially zoned and is located off of State Road 29, a major thoroughfare in the area. The tribe is considering several options for the land.

“Warehouse property has gone up in value over the last few years because of the pandemic and all the online shopping,” Levy said. “We are exploring that.”

The Indian Camp property consists of 160 acres that belonged to the Brown and Rowe families for many years. It is considered culturally significant since tribal families used to camp on the land for generations.

“BIA gives higher value to properties adjacent to tribal property,” Levy said. “Although the Indian Camp isn’t contiguous [to the reservation], it is culturally significant.”

Each property in the Brighton and Immokalee purchases requires its own application for land into trust status.

In addition to the land purchases, the tribe’s real estate portfolio has also grown in the past two years with the purchases of half a dozen multifamily buildings in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver and Tampa.

The yellow outline shows the location of the Lakeport Ranch property along State Road 78. The property has been renamed
Rio Ranch Sweetgrass. (Courtesy image)
A map of the Indian Camp property near downtown Immokalee. (Courtesy image)
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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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