In August 2016, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula approved both Ojibwa Casino renovations in a referendum authorizing a total of $40 million for the projects with $6.5 million slated for Baraga and $33.5 million for their Ojibwa Casino in Chocolay Township. This reversed funding approved in 2015 would have seen the bulk of the money go to the Baraga project. The state’s rejection of KBIC plans to build an off-reservation casino prompted the re-apportionment decision approved by community members.
In early December 2016, KBIC held groundbreaking ceremonies on the casino expansion and improvement projects. Since that time the casinos, namely the Ojibwa Casino in Marquette County, have encountered some costly issues resulting in the completion date being pushed back to 2019.
In Marquette County, construction costs for the septic system have swelled by about $2 million, according to TV6 & FOX UP. Additionally, the electricity quota has reportedly increased from $375,000 to $600,000. The significant increases in Marquette have not only put work on hold but have made alterations to the infrastructure plans for the Baraga Casino necessary.
Ojibwa Casino General Manager, Don Wren, reportedly told TV6, “There’s a whole process that goes into that, not only just paying for that but also the design work.” Wren said it was “things like that” that pushed them back but that, “It’s still going to be really great, a great place to come.”
“It’s just not quite as grand as we would have hoped for because of the Marquette property,” Wren explained.
According to the latest report, the plan by officials is for renovations at the Baraga Casino to be completed this spring, however, completion of the planned new 76-room hotel, Marquette Casino Convention Center and entertainment arena has reportedly been extended to late summer of 2019.
In May last year, Wren told TV6 that “The Marquette property is moving right along. We’re running a little behind where we want to be, but with every construction project we do, or what everybody does, it’s always the site issues that hold you up.”
At that time, the expected completion date for the Marquette Ojibwa Casino property was September 2018 and a March 2018 date was given for completion of the Baraga casino.
In this latest interview, Wren told TV6, “This is a whole different animal here, and a whole great big change to this area not only to this casino, but to community as well so this will take longer.”
While construction has been delayed and the completion date of the Marquette property pushed back by about a year, the marketing committee reportedly said they are on track with the rebranding of both casinos.
“We are close to having our brand logo ready to roll and from there we will have new advertising on TV, radio, and print,” said Marketing Manager Jim Orr. “We also will have new outdoor billboards and direct mail, online and social media all with our marketing plan.”
Mr. Orr did not respond to WCD’s requests for comment prior to this publication.
According to the Oct. 2017 TV6 report, construction was set to begin on the Baraga casino mid-November 2017. On the evening of January 19, 2018, staff at the Baraga casino told WCD in a phone conversation that construction has begun on the parking lot but not the casino itself.
The October 2017 article also states that officials had hoped that before winter began they would move three houses located where the entertainment arena at the Marquette property will be built. In speaking with staff at the Marquette Casino on Jan. 19, 2018, WCD was told that they had just recently begun removing trees in preparation to move the houses.