Street Talk

Street Talk: Casino scratches its seven-year itch

Maine man.

February 9, 2018
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The Gun Lake Tribe is a patient bunch.

Dating back to hundreds of years of land disputes and, more recently, to sovereign-nation status and, very recently, a lengthy lawsuit involving the creation of the Gun Lake Casino, the tribe has shown a willingness to play the long game.

So, seven years probably seems like a pretty short time span to gain total control of its Gun Lake Casino.

Last week, the tribe announced its contract with Nevada-based Station Casinos LLC to manage the casino had run its course.

The contract expired pursuant to federal Indian gaming law that limits the term of management contracts to seven years.

“This is a significant milestone because we are taking another step toward complete self-sufficiency as a tribal government,” said Scott Sprague, tribal chairman. “We appreciate the relationship with Station Casinos, as it enabled us to open a professional gaming operation from Day 1. We also gained valuable knowledge and experience that we will use to continue our success.”

Sprague said the tribe prepared to assume casino management responsibility for many years. A comprehensive transition plan had been developed dating back to the 2011 opening of the casino. He said a more detailed plan has been implemented over the past few years that focused on operational personnel and technology.

A key step in the transition occurred in October when the tribe hired Sal Semola as president and chief operating officer of Gun Lake Casino. Semola brought more than 40 years of experience in the gaming and hospitality industry working throughout the United States at numerous tribal and commercial properties.

In addition to Station Casinos’ management expertise, three individuals from Mount Pleasant contributed to the management of the casino. Sprague said Sid Smith, Bart LaBelle and Jim Fabiano were early investors in the casino and their support played a key role in the location’s development.

The casino employs more than 1,000 team members, and the tribe has shared more than $100 million with state and local governments over 14 separate distributions since the gaming facility opened.

Summer lovin’

The Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University received a $12,000 Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support a project documenting the history of summers in the Saugatuck-Douglas area in the mid-20th century.

Kimberly McKee, director of the Kutsche Office of Local History, said the project is a collaboration with the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center.

"Stories of Summer" involves capturing oral histories and digitizing photographs, newspaper articles and other materials from the era.

McKee said while the area's logging, agriculture and maritime industries are well-documented, there is a marked absence of the LGBT experience within the two communities.

Nathan Nietering, director of the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, said the project will document the area's rise to becoming a lakeshore destination for the LGBT community and its growing postwar tourism industry.

Working with the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center, Kutsche Office staff members will conduct two “history harvests” at the center's Old School House in Douglas on June 2 and July 21.

Staff members from Grand Valley's University Libraries will preserve the materials for archival purposes. Eventually, copies of oral histories and collected materials will be kept at the History Center and on an online database.

Since it was established in 2008, the Kutsche Office of Local History has conducted multiple oral history collections of diverse populations. These oral histories include voices from Hispanic and Asian Pacific families in Holland, Native Americans in West Michigan, and families who have lived and worked in Oceana County.

One direction

Tiny yellow hard hats accompanied each place setting at a recent fundraiser, symbolizing the next phase of a collaboration that’s been happening somewhat quietly for several years.

One Wyoming Inc. received its 501(c)(3) status in 2016 and, in 2017, reconstituted its board of directors, developed a five-year strategic plan and set a 2018 fundraising goal of $150,000.

Its first fundraiser toward that end was held Jan. 24 at the former Klingman’s building at 1001 28th St. SW in Wyoming.

According to Jack Ponstine, president of Professional Media Management and president of the One Wyoming board, the nonprofit’s primary objective is economic development.

Its strategic plan also includes community health and wellness, quality education, community development, arts and entertainment, and diversity and inclusion.

Speaking toward the latter piece, Roberto Torres, former executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, joined the One Wyoming board and is looking for ways to communicate Wyoming’s “great diversity” so that it can attract outside investors and improve services.

Torres said much more work lies ahead.

“We went from developing the board to creating a strategic plan. Now, we want to bring on a staff that’s going to work on these strategic areas, then take them to the foundations and say, ‘Here’s what this looks like and here’s what the money will go to.’”

Early ideas include creating neighborhood community centers where Spanish-speaking residents could go for health care, seeding entrepreneurial and STEM training, and attracting potential “anchor venues” that would spur ancillary development.

The organization’s roots date back 18 years, when several faith-based organizations in Wyoming, along with the late Wyoming Mayor Carol Sheets and soon-to-retire Police and Fire Chief James Carmody formed a group that would go on to create mentorship and education opportunities for the youths of Wyoming, with the help of leaders such as Tom Reeder, superintendent of Wyoming Public Schools.

Over the past few years, its directors started setting their sights higher.

One Wyoming is no longer a purely faith-based group but rather a collaboration of schools, government, nonprofits, residents and business owners — including supporters such as Ken Kemper, president of Grace Bible College, Marge Wilson, owner of Marge’s Donut Den, and Tommy Brann, owner of Brann’s restaurants.

Torres said the group is working to create an international brand for Wyoming that will put it on the map.

“One of the biggest challenges for the city of Wyoming and any other city that abuts a major metro area like Grand Rapids is how do you seek a brand that is different and provides a different identity?” Torres said.

“It’s taking current realities and helping use it to brand us.”

Not so Grand

It’s been a rough stretch for the Grand Action Committee, the business-based nonprofit so instrumental in the development of downtown Grand Rapids.

Last fall, co-chairs John Canepa, Dick DeVos and David Frey announced they would step down as leaders of the organization that has been a catalyst for more than $3.5 billion in economic development.

Last month, Canepa died as a result of injuries suffered in a car-pedestrian accident. Last week, Grand Action executive committee member and former Davenport University president Donald Maine died.

In a joint statement, DeVos and Frey called Canepa and Maine “giants” of the community.

“They were close friends and colleagues, whose lives and contributions were an extraordinary gift to us, our community and to scores of others,” the statement read. 

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