The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 20, 2012

FireKeepers creates a destination with construction of new hotel

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

BATTLE CREEK – Building a new hotel next to the Firekeepers Casino has been in the cards since the gaming facility opened in 2009.

And as anyone can see driving along I-94 at Exit 104, the new, landmark hotel is now a sure bet.

Construction on the eight-story, 242-room hotel is moving quickly under Clark Construction Co., the project’s construction manger, their 18 subcontractors and the building trades. Work began on the hotel last May and there’s ample progress toward a late 2012 opening.

“We’re on time and on budget,” said Gary Ritzema, site manager for the Skillman Corp., which is administering the project for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribe. “There have always been plans in place for the future expansion. And with the success of the casino, the decision was made to go forward with the hotel. We see what we have here as a destination.”

The 230,000-square-foot Firekeepers Casino opened in August 2009. The property features a 107,000-square-foot gaming floor with 2,700 slot machines, 90 table games, a live poker room and bingo room. FireKeepers also offers five distinctive dining destinations and multiple lounges and entertainment venues.

The gaming floor and other public areas were built with one of the most sophisticated lighting schemes put in a casino, or likely anywhere else in Michigan.

Connected to the casino, the hotel is aiming for a four-star rating and will include a 2,000-seat multi-purpose event center. It can be configured for a concert venue, or, the versatile space can accommodate banquets, corporate meetings, trade shows, and other events.

The hotel will include a pool, a fitness room, an 8,500 square-foot addition devoted to bingo, and another 6,000 square-feet devoted to additional (nonsmoking) gaming, and another restaurant. Floors two through six will have conventional hotel rooms, while floors seven through eight will have larger rooms and suites.

The casino was built under a widely praised project labor agreement with the Southwest Michigan Building Trades. And the tribe, Clark Construction and the building trades liked the concept so much, a PLA was signed for the hotel, too. About 150 Hardhats are currently on the job; employment will peak out at about 220.

“We’re very happy with the PLA and the work of the trades,” said Clark General Supt. Ken Stephenson. “The quality, the scheduling, the workmanship, the coordination, they’ve all been great.” And to top it off, the zero worker-injury record at the casino has so far been matched during construction of the hotel.

The tribe has aggressively sought to include local workers, with a goal of 25 percent native employment on the construction workforce. They have also sought to use local material suppliers whenever possible. The same philosophy will be used when it comes time for hiring permanent workers at the hotel.

The expansion is expected to create 400 new jobs. The casino already employs about 1,500 people.

“Opening FireKeepers Casino was a long journey for our Tribe,” said Homer Mandoka, Tribal Council Chairman of the NHBP, when the hotel construction was announced.  “We are proud to see this business flourish and to have an opportunity to provide increased amenities to our guests. Our Tribal Elders and all Tribal Members are proud of the economic engine that we have created in South Central Michigan. This expansion represents our commitment to giving back to our local community through job creation, increasing local tourism and truly turning Battle Creek into a destination within Michigan.”

THIS 242-ROOM HOTEL is under construction next to the FireKeepers Casino along I-94 in Battle Creek. Complete with a 2,000-seat multi-purpose events center, the facility hopes to attract conventions, concerts, trade shows and other events. And of course, gamblers.

INSTALLING ROOF conductors in the hotel’s grand entrance are Dave Trescott (above) and tribal member Dominic Simmons, below. They’re Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 members working for John E. Green.

A NICE CASE OF THE BENDS – Some well-done conduit work they helped install at the FireKeepers Hotel provides the backdrop for IBEW Local 445 electricians (l-r) Bill Kazlauskas and Brian Thundereagle. They’re working for Swan Electric.