The Band Played On

March 10, 2003
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There's a new wrinkle in the Indian gaming game going on in Michigan.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians late last week announced the purchase of the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa from California-based KSL Recreation Inc.

The resort, one of the top 20 in the country, features three championship golf courses, four restaurants, 424 guest rooms, 236 furnished condominiums, a shopping gallery, spa and 960 acres of property.

But what will it house in the future?

Already among the largest employers in northern Michigan, this transaction is expected to catapult the Grand Traverse Band into a leadership position among Indian gaming operations nationally, as well as among Michigan tourist destinations, reads a statement from the West Michigan Tourist Association. It is believed to be the first time an Indian tribe has purchased a full-service resort in lieu of building its own.

"This is a historic day for the Grand Traverse Band and its members," said Grand Traverse Band Tribal Chairman RobertKewaygoshkum, adding the band is "very enthused about our future here in the Grand Traverse area."

For now, things will remain pretty much the same at the resort, he said, and the band plans to maintain and improve upon the existing amenities currently offered there.

More than 3,500 members make up the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the organization has been in the casino gaming business since 1984. In addition to Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown and Turtle Creek Casino in Williamsburg, the band owns and operates two hotels, restaurants, a conference center and a convenience store.

"Having worked in or visited virtually all the major commercial and Indian gaming operations and hotels nationwide, I can say that what this property brings us — in concert with our vision — is unprecedented," said JeffLivingston, CEO of Traverse Bay Entertainment, the economic development arm of the band.

With the Gun Lake band pushing for a Wayland casino and the possible entrance into the market of the Grand Traverse Resort, Grand Rapids' entertainment interests certainly would be affected. PeterSecchia said last week that the community at large does not understand the importance of protecting the investments made in the downtown over the past 30 years, and he (and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Community Partnership for Economic Growth) don't want to see it empty again.

But others contend that won't be the case.

"That's good news," said LeviRickert, a GR Native American activist, upon learning of the Grand Traverse sale. "Maybe Peter's really afraid that if we get going down here, this Gun Lake band may end up buying some big building in downtown Grand Rapids like the Sault Ste. Marie tribe did and brought back downtown Sault Ste. Marie."

Now what are the odds of that happening?

  • What were the odds of Grand Rapids Business Journal putting on a successful Women of Influence event at Meijer Gardens? Pretty good, actually. More than 450 people turned out to honor the Journal's 50 Most Influential Women West Michigan during last Monday's luncheon. With the Econ Club hosting Dr. KentBottles at the same time downtown, we're guessing a lot of Grand Rapids offices were empty during the noon hour.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, was the featured speaker and the emphasis of her talk was how far women have come over the past several decades. Using U-M as an example, she pointed out that it took 50-some years for women to even be admitted to institutions of higher learning in the mid-1800s. The reason, of course, was that their brains couldn't handle the stress. The remarks drew more than a few guffaws and gasps from the crowd, as did the reasoning behind women being discouraged from participating in athletics (something about jostling of reproductive organs).

But her speech turned serious when commenting on funding for the state's Life Sciences Corridor. Coleman pointed out that the state's biosciences effort is in its infancy, and funding now is crucial to development of the 20-year plan.

"U of M is an important partner in this initiative and we, as a state, can't afford to go backward," Coleman said Monday, referring to a projected $12.5 million cut in the state's $50 million funding of LSC. She said it is imperative that the state continue to attract and develop highly skilled tech workers if it is to compete nationally in the coming years. She said meetings with government officials spoke to that point and she was assured that life sciences played an important role in the state's future.

So it was curious when, on Thursday, Gov. JenniferGranholm unveiled a budget that sliced not $12.5 million from the corridor in 2004 funding, but $35 million.

The move caught most observers by surprise.

Earlier in the week, before the announced cuts, BirgitKlohs, president of The Right Place Program, tried to take an optimistic view.

"I hope future governors and future Legislatures remember the importance of this initiative," she said. "We have to fight for the money."

Now the fight will be even more difficult as Granholm's budget proposal heads to the House and Senate.           

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