Pokagon approves casinoPublished 9:48pm Wednesday, June 13, 2012
DOWAGIAC — It’s official for Four Winds Dowagiac.
A unanimous Pokagon Township board voted 5-0 Wednesday night for the consent resolution necessary for Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to proceed with plans to build a small, 24/7 “locals casino” with 100 new jobs next year south of Edwards Street on the west side of M-51.
The Pokagon Band, headquartered on Sink Road within township boundaries, owns Four Winds casinos in New Buffalo and Hartford. Dowagiac’s will be half the size of Hartford’s, which employs 250 to 300, with 200 slot machines, four table games, a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose space and a 25-seat Timbers restaurant.
The tribe took the land into trust on June 10, 2008, indicating its intent to operate a Class III gaming facility in Pokagon Township.
Four Winds Hartford features 500 slot machines, nine table games, a 100-seat restaurant and a 15-seat bar.
Four Winds Dowagiac maintains the same design as the other two, which opened in Berrien County in 2007 and at 68600 Red Arrow Highway in Van Buren County last summer. Patrons must be 21.
“We will have less traffic than what you get when a football game lets out. A local casino is not going to be congested,” said Chairman Matt Wesaw, who was accompanied by General Manager Matt Harkness.
“We did our own market study,” Wesaw said, “which showed this will be a profitable location. A large segment of our population lives here. There is preference for tribe and township citizens (filling jobs). We’re about providing jobs for our people so everybody’s quality of life can lift.”
At a May 24 presentation, Wightman and Associates engineer Matt Davis showed M-51 reconstructed with a dedicated turn lane, a deceleration lane and an acceleration lane to not impede through traffic.
M-51 carries 11,000 cars a day between Dowagiac and Niles.
“This will be very similar to a restaurant-bar operation,” Davis said. “Pretty minor as far as the amount of traffic coming and going.”
Wesaw said, “We give preference to local business partners to supply the facility. There is a five-member local revenue board defined by the compact agreement between the state and tribe which receives 2 percent of slot revenue.
Members consist of representatives of Dowagiac, Pokagon Township, Cass County, the tribe and a fifth seat to be determined from other impacted units.
Tribe general counsel Mike Phelan said the local agreement also stipulates site lighting points downward to shield other properties.
The tribe has its own 18-officer police force, as well as cross-deputization with Cass County and service agreements with fire and ambulance officials.
“This is not something that got to us yesterday,” township attorney John Lohrstorfer said. “We have been working with the tribe on the local agreement for months.”
Supervisor Linda Preston, Clerk Carrie Sandberg, Treasurer Kevin Young and Trustees Robert Shaffer and Gary Mihills supported the agreement with the U.S.-recognized Indian tribe pursuant to federal statutes and in accordance with the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act.
Preston said the tribe invited township officials to tour its facilities.
“We looked at operations,” she said. “We’re confident they run a top-notch organization. We had questions on The Pokagon Fund that’s part of the New Buffalo agreement and were able to come to agreement on amendments. Hartford’s casino floor is about the same size as the whole facility here.”
Roger Callahan, who lives on M-51 near Crystal Springs Street, asked what a casino nearby would do to his property value. “And how this was kept such a secret until the Round House went down, then it came out? There would have been protesters out there if people knew it was being torn down.”
“Four Winds is very professional,” Preston said. “If anything, it might raise your value. I don’t see a negative impact on you. There had not been negotiations until that landmark came down. We were all sad to see that. The Jewells sold it in good faith.”
Callahan’s wife, Cheryl, dissented with her husband.
“We don’t want a casino that close to where we live.”
Four Winds New Buffalo offers 135,000 square feet of gaming with approximately 3,000 slot machines, four restaurants, entertainment bars, retail venues and a 165-room hotel.
New Buffalo will offer 250 additional hotel rooms; Silver Creek Event Center, a 1,500-seat, multi-use facility for concerts; and, opening July 11, Hard Rock Cafe Four Winds, spanning two levels with seating for more than 275 people and a performance stage.
President Clinton restored tribal recognition in September 1994.
The tribe’s 10-county service area includes four counties in southwestern Michigan and six in northwestern Indiana.