Akwesasne Mohawks receive award for refinancing bonds from 2012 casino overhaul
Monday, May 1, 2017 - 5:30 pm

AKWESASNE -- The Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) recently awarded the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe for refinancing their debt associated with the 2012 Akwesasne Mohawk Casino expansion project.

The NAFOA presented the tribe their 2017 “Deal of the Year” Award.

They gave the honor during their 35th Annual Conference held at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco.

“The award recognizes a financial deal completed in 2016 that will have a lasting positive effect on the overall economic status of the Tribe and its tribal members,” according to a news release from the tribe.

The tribe was nominated by the law firm, Buffalo-based Herne Law PLLC, which worked with them on the project for which they received the award. Herne Law does contract work with the tribe for economic development projects, according to Brendan White, the tribe’s spokesman.

“We extend our appreciation to our financial advisors of Sovereign Finance, our in-house and outside legal counsels, the legal teams at Sheppard Mullin, as well as Faegre Baker Daniels along with our Te wá tha hón:ni Corporation Board, comprised of community members and Tribal Council, and last but not least to Key Bank--Nia:wen/Thank you,” said Sub-Chief Shelley Jacobs when accepting the award on behalf of the tribe. “This was a collaborative effort that resulted in substantial savings, a tax-exempt component, a $10 million revolver and we closed the deal before year end on December 28th. It would have been impossible without the teamwork of everyone, diligently preparing documents on a tight timeline.”

The award celebrates the “most impressive transactions in capital raising, mergers and acquisitions, infrastructure and project finance, loans, restructurings, and equities in Indian Country, according to the tribe.

The tribe won the award for refinancing outstanding taxable debt as a tax-exempt debt using the Tribal Economic Development Bonds, or TED bonds program. They refinanced their debts, which had been held by four banks, to one -- Key Bank, according to White.

The restructuring has resulted in an interest rate that is approximately 51 percent lower than the existing rate under the original deal. This transaction will free up cash flow, which will allow the tribe to invest in other economic development opportunities, according to a news release from the tribe.

“Our path finders, our finance and legal teams came together to create a more stable financial environment, increase our cash flow and ultimately leave our Mohawk Gaming Enterprise in a much stronger, more flexible financial position,” Te wá tha hón:ni Corporation Chairwoman Dianna Tarbell said in a prepared statement. The corporation is the tribe’s economic development entity.

“Te wá tha hón:ni translated means path maker and the refinancing of debt now provides a new path for the management of our gaming operations that will help diversify future investments for the economic benefit of the community of Akwesasne,” Tarbell said.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Mohawk Gaming Enterprise oversees the Class III gaming operation that Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort, as well as the Class II Mohawk Bingo Palace also housed at the same location. Together, they are one of the largest employers in Northern New York State and generate approximately $100 Million in revenue each year, with $19 Million used to directly support vital tribal services and programs for community members. The gaming operation’s debt has restricted the availability of finances to make investments that will meet the essential needs of a growing community.

“During the summer of 2016, the Tribe and Mohawk Gaming Enterprise began evaluating options for refinancing nearly $55 million in debt to meet the future capital needs of our community,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Garrow. He noted, “A complex process was used and many critical decisions were made that helps the community now and in the future, which we have the responsibility to consider in decisions that are made today.”

This year’s award represents the second time the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has been honored by NAFOA for a “Deal of the Year.” In 2014, the Tribe was recognized at NAFOA’s 32nd Annual Conference for reviving discussions surrounding a negotiated resolution to the Akwesasne Mohawk Land Claim against the State of New York. The Tribe was able to leverage its dispute over casino revenue sharing payments with the State to refocus efforts on boundary issues that have been unresolved for decades.

NAFOA is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen tribal economies.

More information about the nominating process is at https://www.nafoa.org/documents/2017S_Awards_Eligibility_and_Nomination_....