Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A group known for their casinos in Hinckley and Mille Lacs is now making its way into hotels. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is buying up half of the hotel rooms in downtown St. Paul.
Joe Nayquonabe, director of corporate affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s Corporate Commission, would not confirm specific hotels until the deal is complete, but sources say it’s the Crowne Plaza and the DoubleTree by Hilton. He says it’s all part of the band’s effort to diversify its investments.
“We focused on the things we have some expertise and experience. We’ve been operating in hospitality for 21 years and in hotels for a number of years as well,” Nayquonabe said. “The hospitality structure felt like a good fit for us.”
This will be the band’s first big move into the Twin Cities, and they’re partnering with well-known Graves Hospitality to do it. According to Ben Graves, the facilities are expected to get an upgrade.
“We’ll certainly welcome the high school hockey crowd, but we really expect to fit the needs of the business travelers,” he said.
Graves says his company and the band have been working together for eight months. He believes the St. Paul market was a shoe-in for their first project together because of the new Saints stadium, the Light Rail in 2014 and the events at the Xcel Energy Center. The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce is welcoming the band as well. Right now, a New York based company owns the hotels.
“We have Minnesotans who know our culture, they know how to make money in Minnesota, and they know downtown St. Paul, and they saw an opportunity to make money,” said Chamber CEO Matt Kramer.
The band’s corporate commission says it will work with Graves Hospitality to expand into all of the major markets in the US, including New York and Chicago. They expect to announce more deals by the end of this year.
“We like this spot because it’s a way the Mille Lacs band can wrap its arms around launching this strategy, because we’re familiar with the market and the assets, and we have all these great partnerships in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Nayquonabe said.
The band says it does not plan on adding any gambling to these facilities.