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Tribe Owned Black Bear Casino and Hotel South of Duluth, Minnesota
 Receiving a $100 million Expansion, Including New 12 story
 240 room Hotel Addition
 

By Steve Kuchera, Duluth News-Tribune, Minn., Duluth News-Tribune, Minn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Dec. 19, 2005 - People coming to Black Bear Casino and Hotel in a couple of years could find a vastly different, larger facility.

The Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa is considering building a 12-story, 240-room addition to the hotel; a four-story parking ramp; a convention center; and a new, larger casino.

"It's a project that we need," Tribal Chairman Peter Defoe said. "We expect to start in April or May."

"It's kind of exciting," Defoe said of the project, which will "cost in excess of $100 million."

The band is very close to having a financing package worked out with US Bank, Defoe said.

"We think the loan agreement will allow us to make all the expenditures for this project without any hitches," he said.

The band's five-member Reservation Business Committee hasn't formally approved the plan. RBC members other than Defoe could not be reached for comment.

Under the plan, the band would build the hotel addition, parking ramp and convention center first. It would then move the casino games into the convention center while the existing, two-story casino is demolished and a new, single-story casino is built.

The new casino would include a bingo hall for at least 400 people and room for up to 2,000 video slot, poker and keno machines. According to its Web site, the current casino has about 1,450 machines.

The project would also include a buffet and restaurant, and an auditorium that may hold more than 2,000 people.

"It will be big enough to have concerts in it," Defoe said.

The project would remodel the hotel's existing 158 rooms and upgrade the building's mechanical systems.

Black Bear Hotel manager Corey VanGuilder said the hotel enjoys a high occupancy rate. He expects that occupancy rates will remain high "with the new amenities."

The expansion would allow the hotel-casino complex to increase its work force from about 650 to perhaps 850 employees.

The band aims to avoid wetland issues by building the new structures within the limits of the existing structures and parking lot.

This is the second Black Bear expansion plan the band has considered in recent years. In late 2003, the Reservation Business Committee approved a $25 million plan to double hotel space, build an 800-plus seat auditorium, a buffet-style restaurant and more casino gambling space.

"That was a good plan," Defoe said. "But as the new council came in, we looked at that a long time, looking at the current facility" and its needs.

In developing its current plans, the band is working with the Minneapolis architectural firm Walsh Bishop Associates. The firm has worked on more than 50 Indian projects for 35 tribes in 15 states, including the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota Community, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

Black Bear Casino opened in June 1993 at a cost of $8 million. The $10 million hotel opened two years later. The $8 million, 18-hole Black Bear Golf Course opened in July 2003. The course made Black Bear more attractive as a destination hotel.

STEVE KUCHERA can be reached at (218) 279-5503, toll free at (800) 456-8282, or by e-mail at skuchera@duluthnews.com.

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