KBIC Tribal Council looks at cost of acquiring Lakeside Inn

BARAGA – The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council has asked Treasurer Eddy Edwards to seek an up-to-date asking price for the Baraga Lakeside Inn, and to begin working with builders towards determining a cost for renovations, as part of a plan he’s championing to relocate the Tribe’s aging Ojibwa Casino to the Baraga waterfront.

Edwards brought a digital rendering of a possible casino on that property to the KBIC’s council meeting Saturday, along with a preliminary site plan that included a marina and parking for more than 400 vehicles. He also had a list of reasons for relocating to the waterfront that included a projected $17 million increase in casino profits in the first five years of operations.

“That’s twice what we’d see by renovating the existing Baraga casino,” Edwards told the council. “The site studies all show that it’s buildable, and we can do any amount of parking we want – we just have to build up.”

But a second measure passed the council as well, asking for a fresh study of three previously-defined casino relocation options that had first been examined in 2010, showing that many counselors still aren’t fully behind the waterfront option.

“We looked at it before and it wasn’t going to work,” council member Jennifer Misegan said of the Lakefront Inn plan. “Before doing something like this we need a feasibility study.”

The KBIC had decided to build a new casino on the former Marquette County Airport, off the tribe’s reservation, but Gov. Rick Snyder nixed that idea last year.

Option one is trying again for a Marquette area location, and seeking a situation and agreement that would change the Governor’s mind.

The second option is the waterfront plan, and the third is to renovate the current Baraga casino.

Edwards said that while a large Marquette site might be ideal, he didn’t think Snyder was likely to change his mind.

“We can sit and wait for the next governor or we can try again,” Edwards said, adding that “we can do more studies, waiting and waiting and waiting, or we can just do this.”

The current casino, he added, is showing its age and reaching the end of its useful life. As an example, he pointed out a water main break last week that required a small portion of the casino to be shut down while the line was repaired.

The Lakeside Inn, he added, was “for sale at a potentially fair price,” while the Tribe is currently in good fiscal shape.

“We have the financial ability to relocate,” he said.

Edwards’ plan also includes using currently-owned tribal property adjacent to the Lakeside Inn, which currently houses the Tribe’s radio station and tribal planning office, as part of the casino complex.

Council member and former council President Warren “Chris” Swartz Jr. said he needed to know more about the potential financial liabilities of the waterfront proposal. He said it was important the tribe didn’t spend money it now uses to provide services to members, such as payments for seniors and the disabled, on a project that wasn’t going to pay off.

“I think it’s important to look at the costs, and how we’re going to get our money back,” he said.