Firekeeper’s Casino Set to Add another 200 Room Hotel
Firekeeper's Casino is coming up on its 10th anniversary, and Kathy George has been there for most of that. The last two years, she's been the CEO, the first woman to hold that job. George has some pretty impressive qualifications. She has a bachelor degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell, one of the top programs in the country. She was a GM for Hilton, and for Seneca Resorts and Casinos---a very large operation in her home state of New York. She says 14 moves later, and he's she is here in Michigan.
But Kathy George also has some other unique qualifications. She comes from a large Native American family, and worked as a young person in her tribe's bingo hall. "A Native American-run casino is a family business". said George on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins. "They take great pride in it to make sure bad things don't happen." So far, a lot of good things have happened in the local community, and the prominence of casinos has also helped Native American communities.
President Ronald Reagan signed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act into law in 1988 when Kathy George was in her second year of college. "I had no idea what was going to be in my future or every tribe's future. It's been a phenomenal opening for tribes to become really self-sufficient."
Firekeeper's Casino has been a great success, so much so that they're breaking ground soon on a second hotel, nearly doubling occupancy to 446. Collins remarked that it's a full-service casino.
"The restaurants, the entertainment, the hotel, the stores--we provide a full service experience, " says George. "There's a lot of people who don't game , and just come to people-watch and experience everything else."
Calhoun County residents who have never been to the casino can see the positive impact its had. The original compact the tribe made with then Governor John Engler, provides that a percentage of profits go to roads and infrastructure. In the ten years since Firekeeper's opened, George says they have contributed $197 million dollars to state and local governments, and she says as the casino grows, so do the dollars going to the community. "Last year alone, revenue sharing provided $18.4 million to the state and $5.7 million to the local communities."
Another visible effort by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi is the renovation of the historic Kendall Avenue Fire station in Battle Creek. It's a restaurant, food pantry and they are also partnered with Horrock's and C-Stores to sell food made there. The tribe has also built greenhouses to grow food for school lunch programs. "The greenhouses are doing fantastic, "says George. "We built them next to the community garden down in Athens on the reservation. We started harvesting just a few months ago and have put in the salad bars in the Athens schools so the students get free salads." She says Chef Mike McFarlen and his staff are developing programs to teach students about growing and preparing food. They did 11 "Fresh Food Initiatives" last month in area schools where they teach kids how to cook the good foods that are being grown by the tribe.
Firekeeper's is also sponsoring major events across the state and in the local communities, including the NASCAR Firekeeper's Casino 400 race at MIS, the Symetra Tour women's golf tournament at Battle Creek Country Club, and Townsquare Media's Kalamazoo Ribfest. "It's important for us to be visible in the community, but more importantly, it's the right thing to do. We have the ability to do so. We have 1800 sets of hands to help us volunteer and to all of the work, so it's our responsibility to do that, and we're really proud that we get to do that."
George says the ground breaking ceremony for the newest hotel and everyone's welcome to come on out. The new building will be much like the existing one. George says they'll still continue to operate the Quality Inn next door. She says it's been a valuable property for the casino, and will continue to be. "The new hotel will just allow us to bring more visitors to the town so that they can go to all the great things here in Calhoun County when they're not gaming."