he $34 million Marquette Ojibwa Casino expansion project in Michigan is on schedule to open its doors before 2020, officials say. The property is owned by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, which is investing nearly $50 million in gaming projects, including the one in Baraga.
“The project is moving along very well and we are actually slated to open most of the new facility in December of this year. The only item that will open a bit later is the new restaurant that will feature menu items developed by Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave’s BBQ,” Casino General Manager Larry Denomie said last Tuesday, as reported by The Marquette Mining Journal.
The expansion at Marquette is costing more than $40 million. The new 1,200-seat event center will be the first part of the new casino in Marquette to be completed, he said. In addition to the amphitheater, the new Keweenaw Bay Indian Community project will also feature a 400-seat convention space as well as 500 slot machines.
“We are getting calls regularly from large groups interested in renting the center to host their events,” Denomie said. “We are finalizing plans internally and will have contact information out so others seeking to host their events have a point of contact to work with.”
A new public water system, including a 186-foot-tall retention tower capable of holding 75,000 gallons, has been completed and is currently providing water to the casino, Denomie said. Construction of the water tower was financed by KBIC 2% gaming funds with Chocolay Township as a conduit. The money will be reimbursed to KBIC by subtracting $62,000 annually from the township’s 2% gaming revenue payments over the next 10 years.
The payments, which are required by Michigan tribe’s gaming compact with the state, represent 2% of slot machine revenues at tribal casinos and are distributed biannually to local municipalities.
“The new public water system is complete and providing water to the current casino as well as the KBIC Housing residents behind the casino,” Denomie said. “The system is now available to Chocolay Township as well to use as a firefighting resource in the area. The tower itself was constructed to provide the ability for companies to put antennas/towers on top of it. We recently had agreements approved with NMU and 906 Technologies to be the first ones to take advantage of the opportunity.”
In addition to the casino infrastructure improvements, the Michigan Department of Transportation is partnering with KBIC on a $564,000 project to reconstruct the M-28/Acre Trail intersection, which is the entrance to the casino. “Left-and right-turn lanes will be added on M-28 to support the additional traffic and turning movements generated by the expansion. The project also includes concrete curb and gutter, new signs, pavement markings, and centerline rumble strips,” an MDOT press release states.
Sixty percent of the project, which began Aug. 19 with an expected completion date of Sept. 27, is funded with a Transportation Economic Development Fund Category A grant, with the remaining funds provided by MDOT and the KBIC.
“Our role is merely monetary in nature; we are providing matching funds toward the project cost,” Denomie said. “MDOT will be handling the entire project which will be (a) huge increase in traveling safely through that corridor and the entrance to the casino. We are thankful that MDOT saw the need to move this project forward for the safety of our customers, employees and those traveling through that area.”
Although the initial plan to include a hotel in the current phase of the project was not feasible, Denomie said KBIC is pleased with the anticipated final product. “The project is on target to be completed within budget — and I’m hopeful, slightly under budget! The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community will have invested nearly $50 million into the Baraga and Marquette Casinos when all is said and done — a historical and much-needed investment,” he said.
“The new Marquette Casino is going to be beautiful and unique to any other casino in the region. Of course we are disappointed that we weren’t able to get the hotel into Phase I of the project, but with good working relationships with hoteliers in the Marquette area and a robust transportation program, we will make sure our customers are able to safely enjoy the new casino while leaving the driving to get to their hotel in town to us.”
The Ojibwa Casino in Baraga benefited from upgrades on the interior, the restaurant and hotel rooms, along with a new ventilation system. The tribe celebrated the renovation in April. According to the June 2019 issue of the tribe's newsletter, the work at Baraga cost nearly $7 million.
The tribe also distributed another $1.31 million to local communities and the state of Michigan, according to the newsletter. Of that amount, $263,037.34 went to to Marquette County and Baraga County, representing 2 percent of net win from all Class III electronic games at the two Ojibwa Casino locations. Another 8 percent of the Class III net win, or $1,052,149.26, went to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.