By DAN ROBLEE
For The Daily News
BARAGA - The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council has approved the purchase of the Baraga Lakeside Inn, bringing the tribe a major step closer to the goal of a new waterfront casino.
To be finalized, the Lakeside deal must now be approved by a meeting-style referendum of the tribe's members, which has been scheduled for Aug. 2. Proponents of the deal hope to renovate the hotel into a modern casino that will replace the aging Baraga Ojibwa Casino on M-38.
"I think my constituency is basically happy we're moving forward with something," Ogimaa, or council President, Donald Shalifoe Sr. said after the meeting, which was mostly closed to non-tribal members. "The goal of the new moving-forward council is to create a new positive outlook and possible financial gain for every tribal member in the future."
According to KBIC Treasurer Eddy Edwards, the council actually approved two purchase agreements necessary for the deal. For the primary hotel purchase, the tribe will only pay the partnership that owns the Lakeside $1,000, but will acquire debt liabilities of not more than $2.6 million.
In a second agreement, the council approved paying $150,000 to Bob Ross for a half-interest in the Lakeside's marina, which Ross, also a member of the Lakeside partnership, had owned individually.
Approval of the purchase agreements passed by an 8-4 vote. Council member Jennifer Misegan, one of the dissenters, said she was concerned tribal members would be going to the referendum without understanding the total cost of the new casino after renovations.
"The problem with the vote is that the council doesn't have a clear picture financially," she said, noting that the council still hasn't discussed financing with KBIC Chief Financial Officer Francis LaPointe Jr.
"How are the people supposed to vote on that?" she asked.
Edwards did present a preliminary construction budget at the meeting, which Shalifoe said totaled about $36 million. Edwards said that figure could be scaled back, with some elements such as a new breakwall for the marina delayed until the future, though he felt the tribe would be best served by completing all renovations at once.
"I don't think it's going to be all that I present, but I hope so," Edwards said.
Council members have said in the past that the current Baraga casino is deteriorating, but have disagreed about the process and location for a new one. Misegan said a new casino feasibility study - the current one is about five years old - should have been conducted before moving forward with a multimillion dollar investment.
"All of us agree that something needs to be done, I just don't know if it needs to be on such a grandiose scale where we tie up all of the tribe's money in one project," she said. "If we don't have the funds that we need I don't know how we'll maintain the services for the membership."
Shalifoe said large financial gains might not show up for a generation, but that he was also focused on creating revenue with the purchase as quickly as possible.
"As soon as we close on (the Lakeside), we'll open the hotel as ours and start making money on it," he said.
Edwards, who has spearheaded the Lakeside proposal, was enthusiastic after the meeting.
"It's amazing we took this step. It's been a long time coming," he said. "I've got a lot of confidence in people desiring to move forward. Hopefully that will be expressed Aug. 2."