Improvements planned to casino Expo Center: Hotel to target gaming patrons

The Forest County Potawatomi tribe is planning several improvements to its 33,000-square-foot Expo Center facility at Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley.

Several events have been held at the facility including the Milwaukee Press Club’s City Birthday Party, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin’s Annual Gala, the Goodwill Green Bay Packers Fashion Show, the American Red Cross Brave Hearts Dinner and Potawatomi pow-wows.

However, the space is still pretty bare bones and several upgrades are planned this year including the addition of bathrooms, carpeting, a coat room and more physical walls. Audio and lighting improvements are also planned. The work is expected to start this spring.

“There’s a lot of details to be worked out yet,” said Ryan Amundson, a spokesman for the casino.

Meanwhile, the Potawatomi are also moving forward with plans to add a 382-room hotel to the casino. Tribal and casino officials say the hotel will not be a major competitor with other hotels in the city. About 90 percent of the hotel’s guests will be new hotel stays in Milwaukee, people that otherwise would not spend the night here, according to a study by Memphis-based hospitality consulting firm Pinkowski & Company.

Potawatomi officials say the casino hotel will provide an additional amenity for its gaming patrons and will not compete for a significant amount of business travelers and convention business.

“The purpose behind the hotel is to cater to our existing guests,” Amundson said. “It’s an amenity for casino guests. It’s not being marketed for convention and business guests. This is going to serve existing guests, new visitors to the casino and the leisure market.”

The casino has about 43,000 square feet of meeting facilities. In addition to the Expo Center, the casino also has the 9,000-square-foot Woodland Dreams ballroom and the 1,800-square-foot Tribal Room.

By comparison, the Frontier Airlines Center in downtown Milwaukee has about 300,000 square feet of space, the Wisconsin Exposition Center at State Fair Park in West Allis has 200,000 square feet of space and the Italian Conference Center in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward has about 22,800 square feet of space, including its 9,600 square feet grand ballroom.

Potawatomi officials insist the planned casino hotel is not intended to help them better compete for other meetings or events held at other venues in the area.

“We may pick up some ancillary business, I suppose,” Amundson said. “But I don’t anticipate it being significant or making a huge dent in the market.”

State Fair Park’s Wisconsin Exposition Center does not hold very many business conferences because of a lack of hotel rooms in that area and probably will not be competing with the casino for events, said State Fair spokeswoman Patrice Harris.

“The more business we can bring to Milwaukee the better,” she said.

Roger Stafford, publisher of Key-Milwaukee, a travel magazine, said the meeting market in Milwaukee is growing and the casino is unlikely to take significant business from other venues.

“I think there’s room for more (competition),” he said. “I think there’s gong to be a lot of growth in the meetings market.”

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