The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP), the “Keepers of the Fire,” owners of FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek, Mich., announced its intentions to expand its FireKeepers Casino facility. FireKeepers is only a year and a half years old, having opened in August, 2009, but the NHBP are ready to increase the casino’s scope in just about every way. The expansion project is expected to start in spring 2011 with a completion in the summer of 2012.
“FireKeepers is a successful venture here in South Central Michigan,” Homer A. Mandoka, Tribal Council Chairman of the NHBP, told us. “What we found was guests were constantly requesting rooms. We are real popular on Facebook. So the tribal council introduced the concept of building a hotel to our membership, and we were granted approval to proceed with the hotel.”
The expansion will include increasing amenities, gaming space, dining options (there are already five restaurants, bars and lounges) and entertainment venues. The expansion’s marquee project will be a 242 room resort-style hotel that will include an indoor pool, exercise facility, full service restaurant, and business center.
“Opening FireKeepers Casino was a long journey for our Tribe. We are proud to see this business flourish and to have an opportunity to provide increased amenities to our guests. Our Tribal Elders and all Tribal Members are proud of the economic engine that we have created in South Central Michigan,” said Mandoka in a press release on March 1st. “This expansion represents our commitment to giving back to our local community through job creation, increasing local tourism and truly turning Battle Creek into a destination within Michigan.”
Also included in the expansion plan is a full service, multi-purpose event center. The event center will be capable of seating more than 2,000 guests in a concert venue. When not in use as a music venue, the space can be reconfigured to accomodate trade shows, corporate meetings, banquets, and various other events.
The NHBP’s expansion also includes expanding their bingo operations. They are going to double the capacity from its current 250 player format to 500 players per session by expanding the gaming space to 10,000 square feet.
Expansion plans began in earnest in the spring of 2010 as the tribe began searching for consultants in design service, owner representation, hotel consultants, and construction contractors to join together and make the expansion project a reality. The expansion plan will build off the tribe’s vision to blend their background and culture into every aspect of the design and construction. When the FireKeepers casino was built, they used the inspiration of the traditional American Indian medicine wheel. For the expansion, they are planning to use the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers to guide their design hand, a set of teachings on human conduct towards others delivered to the Anishinaabe.
If the 2009 construction of the casino is any indication, the expansion will be as much about incorporating an aesthetic vision as it is about accommodating visitors with a place to rest between meals, games, and nightlife. The casino was built as an homage to the four elements—fire, air, earth and water. The interior of FireKeepers is broken up into quadrants, with each element represented through accents, colors, and architecture. Fire is represented immediately as guests enter the casino and come upon the centerpiece, a sculpture called the ‘Kabaret’ that represents a flame, including ruby facets that glow red and orange. Water is represented in the walls of rippled glass, teardrop shaped light fixtures, and the casino’s signature restaurant, Nibi, which means “rolling water,” and includes a waterfall feature. The bartop of the restaurant appears to be a flowing stream and a chandelier looks like rain falling from the sky. Earth is represented by the Aurora Lounge, which has a stone entry, a fireplace made of green onyx, and wood tones inside. And finally, aspects of the final element, air, are apparent in the clouds suspended over gaming tables, the use of panel lights that create a translucent, honeycomb pattern, and high curved ceilings. Atop all of these atmospherics, FireKeepers includes intelligent lighting features that allow the casino to synchronize the lighting with the music that is played inside, creating a sensation of light and sound blending together and complimenting one another.
They didn’t stop at creating just a beautiful space, they also wanted to create an environmentally sound design that would showcase their heritage while blending the facility into the fabric of the community. A New Orleans firm, Perez, helped the tribe build the casino using local stone from a Michigan quarry, using local sub-contractors and buying much of the furniture, fixtures and equipment from local suppliers, and building the majority of the interior finishes at FireKeepers from recycled material.
FireKeepers also boasts a porte-cochere that takes the shape of a giant eagle. It’s wings stretch out across the entirety of the front entrance, while the eagle’s beak dips toward a pool at the other end, giving the huge bird a thirsty posture. Atop that pool is a sculpture of a lotus flower that holds the FireKeeper’s living flame.
This is all a lot to live up to as they set out to begin construction of the expansion. Mandoka told us that groundbreaking could happen as soon as this April. “We’re hopeful doors will be open in late summer of 2012.”
We asked him how the expansion would compare to the original construction in 2009 that has clearly been part of the reason visitors have flocked to FireKeepers since it opened up in 2009.
“The native components on this expansion will be subtle,” Mandoka told us. “What you will see is the four elements represented, but you will also see the introduction of the teachings of the seven grandfathers. If you see one object, you will see seven of them. The expansion will represent the lessons taught to the Anishinaabe., the guidance the tribe received to help them in their day to day activities and identify long term goals.”
It seems like the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi have their day to day activities and long term goals firmly in hand.