BELCOURT Members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians had a reason to celebrate Monday as dirt was ceremoniously moved for a new casino.
As he stood at the edge of the parking lot of the Skydancer Hotel and Casino, tribal chairman Merle St. Claire explained that the groundbreaking would be the first step of improving the hotel and casino. Shortly after, the chairman and the eight members of the Turtle Mountain Tribal Council armed themselves with golden shovels, stood on a patch of grass in the median between the parking lot and a frontage road, and dug into the ground.
"We have a metal building," which was not the original design for the casino when it was constructed 16 years ago, St. Claire said to the crowd of community members, tribal officials, and casino employees who gathered outside.
James C. Falcon/MDN
Members of the Turtle Mountain Tribal Council stand where the tribe’s new casino will be built Monday. Tribal chairman Merle St. Claire, third from left, explained that the new building will offer 75 to 100 additional jobs.
James C. Falcon/MDN
An architects rendering of the new tribal casino building stands on a sign outside the Skydancer Hotel and Casino, in Belcourt.
The days of having a pole barn for a casino "will be a distant memory," he added.
He credited a "progressive" tribal council they took office this past November with their feelings "to want something better."
According to St. Claire, the casino expansion will create new jobs and economic successes to the tribe. He said that the expansion will bring between 75 and 100 additional jobs to the 400 or so jobs the casino already offers. He added the new building will bring "new entertainment, good food, luxurious rooms that we can all be proud of. It will begin a new era."
"These aren't just words," he said. "This is a promise."
Richard McCloud Jr., general manager of the Skydancer Hotel and Casino, said the project has been a much-needed project that will help raise the Skydancer into a higher echelon of becoming a first-class casino.
"It is needed. It's something our tribe has been wanting for and waiting," McCloud said.
In addition to housing the new casino floor, the new expansion will feature a hotel tower block with 100 rooms, including 16 suites. An RV park will also be included in the project. The gaming will also increase by about 200 machines, he said. Currently, the casino has 563 machines. Those machines will be added ti the new structure and about 200 will be added. By the grand opening, which is scheduled for Nov. 1, 2012, there will be 757 machines. The Bingo Palace, which is located less than a mile away from the casino in a building that once housed the tribal offices, will also be moved to the casino, McCloud said.
The existing building that serves as the casino will be transformed into a steakhouse with buffet, and a convention hall.
The first phase of the project will be the construction of the new building, said Joseph Edman, the on-site project manager with Construction Engineers, of Grand Forks. The second phase will include moving the slot machines into the new building, and then turning the existing casino into the steakhouse and convention hall, Edman added.
"Everything is seamless, a smooth transition," Edman said, describing the transition from the old to new casino.
Taking into consideration the costs for construction, architect, renovation of the existing casino, the expansion project will cost about $30 million, said Gar Wiedrich, president and CEO of the Turtle Mountain State Bank. The Turtle Mountain State Bank, the only tribal banking entity on the reservation, will be the lead lender for the project. Wiedrich explained that the bank is working with other North Dakota-based banks, including the Bank of North Dakota and Citizens Credit Union, in Devils Lake, for this project. The bank will be taking care of the majority of that cost, while the tribe will pick up the remainder.