Taking one step closer

BARAGA – The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council approved a letter of intent to buy the Baraga Lakeside Inn from Keweenaw Bay Developers at a meeting on Saturday. KBIC plans to locate a new tribal casino at the site, after extensive renovations.

The letter of intent does not mean a deal is finalized. The final price hasn’t been locked down pending final determinations of the Lakeside’s debt liabilities, and a final purchase agreement will have to be approved by both the council and tribal referendum.

Nevertheless, council President Donald Shalifoe characterized the letter of intent as “a real solid step forward.”

“We’re moving forward, it’s time, this (casino) has exceeded its limits,” he said after the meeting. “A waterfront endeavor would increase revenue for all the communities.”

He added that the council did have another location in mind if the Lakeside deal fell through, on undeveloped property near Sand Point in the Baraga area.

The council discussed its decision to approve the letter of intent in closed session, and did not release any estimate of the expected purchase price. The motion to sign the letter passed by a 7-2 vote, with two members abstaining and one absent.

Treasurer Eddy Edwards, who has championed the purchase and spearheaded negotiations, said negotiations have been essentially finalized except for the due diligence regarding liabilities.

“For now it’s a not-to-exceed price,” he said, adding that the letter of intent included a confidentiality agreement preventing the tribe from releasing figures until the deal was finalized.

“We hope to bring it forward the first meeting of June for a final (council) vote,” he said.

“Today was a good day,” he added. “I’m happy we’re moving forward – this is a big step in the process.”

The council also displayed artists’ renderings showing conceptual designs for a casino at the renovated Lakeside building. The tribe is currently working with two pairs of companies, both national firms with casino experience partnered with local companies.

Leo A. Daly, with offices in Minneapolis and elsewhere, is partnered with OHM Advisors of Hancock. The Cunningham Group, also out of Minneapolis and several other offices, is working with U.P. Engineers & Architects out of Houghton.

Potential budgets for the renovations have not been released, but Shalifoe said he hoped the council would choose a design within the next two or three meetings.

He said the new casino would be significantly larger than the present Baraga location, with 300-400 more slot machines as well as more employees.

In a best-case scenario, Shalifoe said, purchase and design could be completed in time for an August groundbreaking on Baraga Lakeside renovations.

“We could possibly be finished by the 2015 Pow-wow,” he said. “That’s maybe a stretch, but it’s a goal.”

He said the tribe planned to keep the Lakeside open as a hotel as much as possible throughout the process, and that it was also looking at options for the current casino building and adjoining hotel. One possibility was to turn the old casino into a water park, he said.

“The idea is to make the KBIC a destination,” he said. “We don’t want to rip anything apart or close the hotel.”