By Heather Brown

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Two major hotels in St. Paul, the Doubletree Hilton and Crowne Plaza, are being purchased by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

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Those two hotels account for about half the hotel rooms in the downtown area. One of the big changes in the deal is that neither hotel will have a casino in downtown St. Paul. Officials say the move is part of a plan to diversify their investments in a hospitality space.

It’s probably one of the worst kept secrets in downtown St. Paul. Officials said they will attempt to attract different crowds to the hotels, including visitors that would otherwise stay in Minneapolis, near the Mall of America or Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe is partnering with Graves Hospitality, who owns the Graves 601 Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. They say they want to open up some new restaurants, some exciting spaces that cater beyond just the hotel crowd.

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Officials are considering rebranding and renaming the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the Mississippi River. It’s the first venture into St. Paul for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

“We intend to be good business people, good neighbors and good citizens,” said Melanie Benjamin, an executive with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “We do not want to change St. Paul, we want to be a part of St. Paul’s business community. We want to help St. Paul with its business and its economic goals, and we now share those goals.”

Band officials said Monday it’s too early to give an exact timeline or even specific cost estimates, but first they’ll do some renovations and some upgrades that they have to do for the franchise. Then they’ll look into restaurants and in a year or two, we should start to see the rebranding of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

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Band officials said this is just the start of their project. They’re looking to buy hotels all over the country, including New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, San Antonio and locally some spots at the Mall of America.

Heather Brown