Tribe to Whitmer: Give final OK to Muskegon-area casino

Michigan

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is urging the governor to soon sign off on a casino and hotel 12 years in the making. 

The tribe has been working to put a casino and hotel at the old Great Lakes Downs race track near Harvey Street and Hile Road in Fruitport Township.

On Friday afternoon, the tribe held a rally at the Muskegon Museum of Art in a last-ditch effort to get the governor to move forward with the project. 

“When I see something like this come forward, it’s something I want to support because it’s going to have a lasting effect on our community for 100 years,” state Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon, said.

The casino is expected to have a nearly 70,000-square-foot gaming floor and the hotel will have 220 rooms. The project is also supposed to bring 3,000 jobs to the area. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians says the revenue from the casino would help pay for medical care, education, housing  for elders, mental health care, child care, prenatal care for its nearly 4,000 members. 

“We don’t invest this kind of money into every project but this one is well worth it. We’ve invested millions of dollars upon the 12 years so this means a lot to us,” Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli said.

Union representatives were at the Friday event to show their support for the project.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians holds an event to encourage Gov> Gretchen Whitmer to approve a casino at the site of the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack in Fruitport Township. (Nov. 5, 2021)

“There’s not very many opportunities for a town like Muskegon to get 1,500 construction jobs and then another 1,500 permanent jobs. It seems like a lot of our industrial employers have gone elsewhere and a lot of those jobs are being replaced by jobs in the service sector,” said Ryan Bennett with West Michigan Building Trades.

Lawmakers say this will be game changing in a community that has struggled economically over the years. 

“It’s the jobs, but it’s the spinoff jobs that a lot of people don’t see that are long-term and if we want to see community redevelopment, these are the types of jobs that can do that,” Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, said.

Whitmer now has 41 days to ask the federal government for an extension or sign off on the project. If she doesn’t act, tribal leaders say the project is a wash.

“She’s had (the paperwork) on her desk since Dec. 16 and we have 41 days left until Dec. 16 and we’re asking her to please go forward,” Romanelli said.

News 8 reached out to the governor’s office to ask if there are plans to sign the documents but didn’t hear back Friday.

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