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Renovations to begin on casino in downtown Duluth

This artist’s view shows what the exterior of the Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth will look like after a planned renovation to begin this summer. LED lights will replace the exisiting neon on the facade. (Image courtesy of Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)1 / 3
This artist’s view shows what the interior of the Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth will look like after a planned renovation to begin this summer. (Image courtesy of Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)2 / 3
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is planning a $12 million expansion and rebuild of the Center for American Indian Resources on Fourth Street in Duluth. (Image courtesy of Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)3 / 3

Two long-awaited Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa construction projects will begin this summer in central Duluth.

Planned are a $12 million expansion and rebuild of the Center for American Indian Resources on Fourth Street and a $5.5 million renovation of the Fond-du-Luth Casino on Superior Street. Another $4 million will go into expanding the Min No Aya Win Human Services Center on the Fond du Lac Reservation next year.

All of the investments have been in the works for several years, as the band set aside tribal revenue for the projects, said band chairwoman Karen Diver.

It waited on the health care facilities in part until the Affordable Care Act was finalized, to ensure the band could support the revenue stream necessary for expansion. The band had hoped to do the casino work when litigation with the city over casino revenue was finished, to have a better idea of its finances. The dispute, begun in 2009, remains unsettled.

The casino project is “probably a lesser remodel than we might have planned but it was so overdue that we’re going to move forward with these improvements anyway,” Diver said.

Room to be comfortable

The growth of opiate addiction within the area’s Native American community means more behavioral health and chemical dependency treatment is necessary.

Opiate addiction has “erupted” in the community in the past five to seven years, said Phil Norrgard, director of human services for the band; it’s seen in both adults and youth.

The expansion of the Center for American Indian Resources will bring adolescent and adult outpatient chemical dependency treatment to central Duluth. Those who need it now are sent to the band’s Cloquet facilities for treatment, which is expensive and time-consuming, Norrgard said. Many of the Duluth center’s clients will be able to walk to it, or take the bus.

 More medical providers, social service workers and nurses will be employed. The pharmacy will expand, along with counseling and case management services. The staff is slated to grow from 50 to 100 within the next five years. The larger clinic and expanded staff will mean far more patients can be served.

“We know we have pent-up demand, and want to do everything we can to serve the community in Duluth the way we do on the reservation,” Norrgard said. “We’ve been operating on a postage stamp for 10 years. It’s going to mean a lot to us to have room to become comfortable.”

The current facility on the 200 block of West Fourth Street is 25,000 square feet; the existing space will be rebuilt, with the addition of a 30,000-square-foot expansion. Underneath the building will be 15,000 square feet of parking to supplement parking next to the building. Adjacent property west of the center has been purchased to help with expansion.

The center has operated out of two buildings that were former Sacred Heart priory buildings.

“They are very old, and hard to rehabilitate,” Diver said. “We’ve been past capacity and there is no way to continue to move things around to fill the needs there.”

The clinic is open to Native Americans and up to two generations of their descendants. One section of the clinic will remain open through construction, and plans for a location for the other section are being finalized, so services will remain available throughout the project.

“This is good for the American Indian community; it will have more culturally competent services close at hand in the neighborhood they reside in,” Norrgard said.

The reservation’s human services center has expanded several times, with the last more than a decade ago. It includes a pharmacy and medical, social and dental services. Another 4,000 square feet will be added for more room for all areas except the pharmacy. Elders are living longer, Norrgard said, noting that the clinic served 70 more people who are age 65 and older between 2011 and 2014.

“We’re excited about the fact that people are living longer,” Norrgard said, but that means more services, such as geriatric care. Prenatal and dental care has increased, along with drug-related social services, such as child protection and drug court case management. Construction on that expansion is set to begin in 2016.

Modern renovations

Both floors of the Fond-du-Luth Casino will be renovated, and the first floor will become non-smoking. A new facade will replace the dated Art Deco, neon light front.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Maurice Ojibway, general manager of the casino at 129 E. Superior St. that opened in 1986.

LED lights will replace the neon out front, and a more modern, neutral interior will update the colorful old one.

“The Art Deco theme was really interesting and new when first built but it’s become incredibly dated,” Diver said. “The facade improvements will blend in nicely with a lot of the redevelopment happening in Old Downtown.”

The band also will update its casino surveillance system. Casino operations are expected to continue — though on a smaller scale — during construction.

Expansion plans don’t include the adjacent band-owned Carter Hotel property on Second Avenue East. In December, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city of Duluth that sought to block potential expansion of the casino onto the Carter Hotel site. The band wants to enlarge the parcel of sovereign land it oversees in downtown Duluth, which already includes the casino, to include the Carter Hotel building.

 The court said the band wasn’t required to get the city’s approval before seeking to enlarge its downtown trust holdings; only in making it part of the reservation. Only the first step of the process — involving the U.S. Department of Interior — has been pursued by the band, the court said.

Diver said last week the Carter Hotel property still has not been taken into trust. The band is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the State Historic Preservation Office.

The band will take a try-it-and-see approach to having a non-smoking floor, but customers have been asking for it, Ojibway said.

“Even some smokers,” he said. “They are tired of ‘smoking’ casinos in general.”

Diver said a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, along with the physical separation of floors, will work to keep the effects of smoke from the first floor.

“We’ll try it and see if it has an impact,” Diver said. “Our history has shown us those areas don’t receive as much play as the rest of the floor, but we will attempt it downtown to see how receptive customers are to change.”

Most tribal casinos have no-smoking sections, including the band’s Black Bear Casino and Resort, but few are completely smoke-free.

Diver said it’s too early to speculate whether one of the band’s casinos, either downtown or Black Bear, would go entirely smoke-free. Tribal casinos are exempt from state indoor smoking laws.

The band has made its Cloquet tribal center smoke-free.

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