Potawatomi plans hotel development at casino

The Forest County Potawatomi tribe is considering plans to build a hotel adjacent to its Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, according to numerous sources.

Ald. Robert Donovan, whose district includes the casino, said he spoke “a couple of months ago” with an individual connected with the tribe, whom he declined to name. Donovan said that individual told him the tribe is considering plans to build a hotel at the casino, but did not provide specifics.

“I did have a conversation with someone who said (a hotel development at the casino is) being considered by the tribe,” Donovan said. “I was meeting with him about a number of issues. That came up. He wanted me to be aware that that discussion is going on.”

Department of City Development Commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux declined a request for an interview about the project.

One construction industry source said the tribe issued requests for proposals for the project from construction firms and architects earlier this year. He said that he met with an official affiliated with the tribe and was told that the tribe is considering plans for a 22-story, 400-room hotel building adjacent to the casino.

“There’s a lot of speculation about projects in Milwaukee," the source said. "This one’s more real.”

The hotel would be built on a vacant lot southwest of West Canal Street and 16th Street. The site was previously occupied by Badger Railing before it moved to a new building near Miller Park. The former Badger Railing building has been demolished.

A commercial real estate source said the tribe has hired an architect for the hotel project and is pricing it out for review by tribal members, who must approve the project.

“I imagine it’s big,” that source said. “They’ve certainly got the financial horsepower to do it.”

Another construction industry source said he heard the tribe is planning a major expansion project at the casino, but was unsure of the details.

“They do have something in the works, and it’s pretty significant from what I’ve heard,” he said.

Another source said preliminary plans for the hotel include a connection to the Expo Center space in the casino.

A Potawatomi spokesman said the tribe has considered plans to build a hotel at the casino for years, but nothing is imminent.

“The Forest County Potawatomi Community continuously evaluates the services and programs offered at Potawatomi Bingo Casino to find ways to enhance the guests’ experience and attract more visitors to Milwaukee. This evaluation includes ensuring the tribe is making the highest and best use of their land in the Menomonee Valley," said Ken Walsh, Potawatomi tribe spokesman. "While there are many potential ideas about the future uses of the property that receive an analysis by the tribe, there have not been any decisions by the tribe to move forward with any of those ideas."

“They’ve been looking at (building a hotel at the casino) for years,” said Greg Hanis, president of New Berlin-based Hospitality Marketers International Inc., a hotel industry consulting firm. “That’s been on their radar screen, but they’ve never pulled the trigger on it.”

Yet another construction industry source also said the tribe has been planning the hotel project for years, but its revenues at the casino have been down recently as a result of the bad economy.

“The disposable income just isn’t there,” he said.

The tribe has looked at plans for a 120-room hotel at the casino, but that source said he was told, “it was quite a ways off. That’s been on the drawing board for years.”

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