Developers, Tribe Band Together

December 1, 2003
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MUSKEGON — The development group pushing to bring gambling to Muskegon is “fairly confident” it can help an Indian tribe secure federal recognition and ultimately develop a casino in downtown Muskegon.

Under a business alliance formed last week, the Archimedes Group LLC will help the Grand Rapids-based Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians that is seeking the federal government’s affirmation of its tribal status.

Securing federal designation would clear the way for the Archimedes Group and the tribe to pursue what would likely become a long and contentious process of receiving state and federal approval for an Indian-run gambling casino in Muskegon, although the groups’ joint announcement last week did not specifically mention a casino. Their “strategic business alliance,” the announcement stated, is “designed to further enhance the aspirations of the members of the tribe and promote economic development in West Michigan.”

And in Muskegon, the Archimedes Group has been lobbying hard to develop a gambling casino, arguing it would create up to 1,000 new jobs for the area.

“We’re hopeful we can get to the point to bring it to fruition,” said Richard Anderson, owner of Chrystal-Anderson Realty in Muskegon and a partner in the Archimedes Group.

“If we can do that, perhaps we can do an economic plan here in Muskegon that can benefit the community,” Anderson said. “We feel it’s the future of Muskegon we’re looking at, and it’s called jobs. This is one approach.”

The business alliance with the tribe, he said, “will greatly strengthen our efforts to bring an economic renaissance to downtown Muskegon.”

The Archimedes Group believes a casino could generate potential spin-off development of as much as $250 million, according to its own estimates. A casino and the peripheral development would help to revitalize the downtown business district by creating a year-round attraction, the development group contends.

Backers envision developing an 80,000-square-foot Indian-run casino built on acreage near the Shoreline Inn & Suites along Muskegon Lake, plus substantial spin-off development nearby consisting of restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment venues such as a water park and convention center.

The Archimedes Group was behind an advisory question on casino gambling that appeared on Muskegon’s citywide ballot in September. Voters supported the question by a 54-46 percent margin.

In a subsequent referendum, city voters in November handily rejected two proposed ordinances for casinos.

To Dave Willerup, head of the group Positively Muskegon that opposes casino gambling in Muskegon, the rejection of the two ordinances in November should have put the issue to rest.

“They got some encouragement back in September but they want to ignore what happened in November. In my mind, this is done,” Willerup said. “That said there is not strong local support to bring a casino into Muskegon.”

Anderson concedes the process of ultimately winning approval for a downtown casino could very well take years to accomplish amid stiff opposition and said the Archimedes Group is willing to “jump through the hoops” that arise.

“We know what we’re up against. We’re in this for the long haul,” Anderson said. “We’re fairly confident.”

Securing federal recognition for the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians — a process the tribe started in 1994 with a letter of intent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs — should take two to four years, Anderson said.

The Archimedes Group and the tribe have hired lobbying firms to push for reaffirmation of the tribe’s status.

The tribe is “very pleased” to have the alliance with the Archimedes Group, tribal Chairman Ron Yob said.

“Their business experience is unmatched in our area and their proven commitment to the economic revitalization of Muskegon is well documented.  They have demonstrated their willingness to help members of our tribe achieve our goals and to work with us to help achieve federal recognition,” he said.    

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