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Thursday, 15 March 2012 09:56

FireKeepers expands reach with new hotel construction

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FireKeepers expands reach with new hotel construction Courtesy photo
BATTLE CREEK — FireKeepers Casino has reached the halfway point on the construction of its 242-room resort-style hotel.

When MiBiz spoke to Lansing-based contractor Clark Construction Co., the company had made progress on the hotel exterior and nearly reached the eighth and final story. Project Manager Troy Multon said the tribe will take over the project by late fall.

“It’s been a fast-track project from the beginning and it’s going very quickly,” Multon said. “The exterior of the tower is all glass and is a unitized curtain wall system.”

Aside from an architectural aesthetic, the curtain wall system is designed to provide greater daylighting and thermal efficiency for cost-saving in heating and cooling.

Multon said about 200 tradesmen have been working on the project. Native American-owned architecture firm Thalden, Boyd and Emery Architects of Las Vegas designed the facility.

When possible, the tribe has used local suppliers. About half of the current contractors and subcontractors are from Battle Creek and Lansing. The site features 165 construction workers and will make way for an additional 300 permanent workers once the facility opens, bringing the total workforce to roughly 1,800 people.

FireKeepers declined to comment on the hotel project’s budget. The original 107,000-square-foot casino project cost roughly $300 million to complete.

The hotel will feature a full-service restaurant and multi-purpose event center, according to Kathy George, the tribe’s newly appointed general manager.

The project’s multi-purpose event center will be capable of seating 2,000 guests in a concert setting. When not used for concerts, the venue will be used for banquets, weddings, corporate meetings, trade shows and other events. The project includes a doubling of the capacity for bingo operations to 10,000 square feet, which will allow for 500 people per session.

George, who has prior experience at running casino and hotel operations, will lead operations for the new facilities starting in the fall of 2012 when doors are expected to open. While FireKeepers initially opened in 2009 when the recession began to take hold, Fascenda credited the tribal council’s actions for keeping the expansion plans moving forward.

“The tribe made some great decisions at the time,” said Michael Facenda, FireKeepers’ director of marketing. “Bringing the hotel to fruition was very important for (FireKeepers).”

When the tribe conceived of the casino some 12 years ago, they had always wanted to market it as a destination, he said. Adding the hotel to the 34-acre site was a part of the tribe’s development plan. While Facenda declined to explain any further, the current construction is only phase one of a larger plan, he said.

Despite its position between Chicago and Detroit and directly off of I-94, FireKeepers had been missing out on serving those overnight and weekend guests, Facenda said. Many other casinos in the state have hotels, including Little River Casino Resort in Manistee and Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant. Outside of Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo, FireKeepers will be the only other four-star hotel and gaming facility in Southwest Michigan, Facenda said.

“It’s going to enable us to expand our marketing radius much further out,” he said. “We’re want to be a meeting place for people.”

As a result of the hotel addition, the casino plans to make a more aggressive marketing pitch and extend the casino’s reach into Indiana and Ohio. Since opening, Facenda said, there had always been pressure from guests to open a hotel. Without a hotel, he said, it was difficult for the casino to serve weekend vacationers and the business meeting and convention market.

“We’ve yet to really penetrate (those segments) because we didn’t have the facilities required,” Facenda said. “This is going to change our dynamic, making us a destination resort.”

Along with a positive influence on day-to-day business, Facenda said the additions would allow the casino to host world-class concerts and events, where people will come to “get their Vegas on.”

The FireKeepers project comes at a busy time for tribal casinos across the state:

  • our Winds Casino in New Buffalo plans to open a new nine-story, 250-room hotel tower; a 1,500-square-foot event center; and a Hard Rock Café this summer.
  • In January, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians announced plans for a 125,000-square-foot Kewadin casino in downtown Lansing, although experts say the plans must overcome myriad obstacles, including securing federal approval.
  • The Gun Lake Casino celebrated its first year of business in February.

Tribe buys out casino manager partner

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi announced plans in mid-February to buy out the management contract of the Las Vegas-based company that operates FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek.

The tribe said it reached a tentative buy-out agreement of the operating contract with Full House Resorts Inc., which owns and operates gaming facilities in Nevada, Indiana, Michigan and New Mexico. Under the proposed buyout, the NHBP Tribe will complete the $97.5 million buyout by May 1, 2012. The move would eliminate the remainder of the contract, which was schedule to run through August 2016.

Full House Resorts managed FireKeepers’ casino operations via Gaming Entertainment Michigan LLC, a joint venture with private investment firm RAM Entertainment LLC. According to Full House’s website, GEM was founded in 1995 to develop the casino project.

Read 2750 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 11:02

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