Expansion Breathes New Life into Four Winds Casino Resort

Luxurious, warm, richly designed and contemporary; these words perfectly describe the look and feel of the additions to the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians’ Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo, Mich. The recently completed expansion project, spearheaded by Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG), is located in southwest Michigan’s scenic Harbor Country, just minutes from Lake Michigan and only a 90-minute drive from Chicago.

There is no doubt that HBG’s vision and strategy translated into success for the casino. The new expansion opened on June 29, and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is already seeing great rewards. Matt Harkness, general manager of the Four Winds Casino Resort, says: “HBG truly performed above expectations … especially in their ability to maintain our current operations during expansion. They did an outstanding job maintaining the continuity of the Four Winds brand while integrating a fresh, new style for the Hard Rock Cafe. The team is truly passionate about client care and committed to excellent service delivery.”

This is not the first time the firm has worked with the Pokagons. HBG was selected as the lead designer and architect while designing the tribe’s Four Winds Casino in Hartford, Mich. Having partnered before, it was easy for both tribe and firm to understand each other’s visions. Rick Gardner, principal-in-charge and senior partner at HBG, explains: “We had established a good relationship with their operations team and had a very successful initiation into their culture and traditions.”

The HBG team worked closely with the Four Winds Casino operational leaders and the Pokagon stakeholders to design and construct an impressive building expansion program of high-quality hotel and entertainment facilities. Recent additions mark phase one of a master plan that HBG developed as a “road map” to easily allow for future expansion. Furthermore, they were careful to logically and flexibly sequence the construction phasing so that the existing property could remain operational throughout construction.

Creating a seamless design that maintained the character, materials and warm palette of the existing property was a primary goal in planning the new expansion, especially the exterior. It was important that all additions preserve brand and cultural identity. Nathan Peak, senior associate/shareholder and lead designer at HBG, explains how his team set about ensuring this: “Our design team achieved these goals through the use of similar yet contemporized exterior materials that evoke a regional, rustic and welcoming environment. Special attention was also given to creating unique details that reference tribal symbolism.”

Silver Creek Event Center
Silver Creek Event Center
It was also important that the new additions exude sleek, modern sophistication. HBG went with a more contemporary interpretation of Pokagon culture, melding subtle tribal design with a modern look that reflects the entertainment needs of a new generation of customers.

Phase one of the multi-stage master plan saw the addition of a 250-room, nine-story hotel tower, a new 1,500-seat event center, and a 12,000 square foot Hard Rock Café. The new hotel tower doubles the property’s capacity for overnight guests, ensuring that the casino can accommodate growing market demand over time. With the aim of expanding upon the Four Winds resort brand, the HBG team focused on updating the quality level for new hotel suites and guest rooms. Guest rooms feature tribal-inspired artwork, juxtaposed with sleek contemporary furniture. A new back-of-house office space, and a connector corridor from the casino to the new and existing hotels, was also built to increase adjacencies and operational efficiency.

The resort’s new, multi-function event center offers boundless opportunities for entertainment and conferencing. Named for a nearby creek culturally significant to Pokagon tribal life, the Silver Creek Event Center was designed for complete operational flexibility and can be configured into a number of sizes to accommodate different uses. It is located off the rear of the main gaming floor to allow for increased crossover traffic; the Four Winds’ owners and operators hope that this strategic location will encourage event-goers to hit the casino.

The culturally inspired design used in the hotel and event center corresponds to themes seen throughout the property; it evokes beauty, luxury and warmth, while being distinctly contemporary. HBG focused on creating unique details that reference a range of significant tribal motifs and symbolism. Peak elaborates on where these features are seen. “Cultural motifs are reflected in the custom-designed lighting fixtures and ceiling and wall ornamentation detail,” he describes. “As a significant medicine of the north, sweet grass designs are integrated into custom finishes and custom decorative metal screening. Abstracted cattail designs represent the cultural tie to the river’s edge. Tribal ribbonwork designs were the inspiration for hammered copper reliefs. The Pokagon Tribal Clan symbol is a Bear of the North, and this northern element informs the directional placement of amenity entries. Natural stonework ties the modern and rustic together in harmony.”

Hard Rock Café
Hard Rock Café
These elements are even seen in the recently added Hard Rock Café, an establishment famous for its singular look. Wooden and stone textures were mixed with pops of red, hot pink and sparkling mosaics, distinguishing the venue as a Hard Rock Café, while enabling its integration with the rest of the property. HBG also aimed for a look that is as captivating as it is functional. Peak gives us an example. “The wooden textures were placed against smooth granite at the center bar, which also features a large canopy screen that serves as a lighting element and can feature a light show for concerts or special occasions,” he explains.

When asked what the designers’ favorite new element is, Peak selects a key detail from the iconic café. “A large guitar element pulls guests in with neon LED lights used as the instrument’s strings,” he says. “This makes quite an impact and helps to set the venue apart from the rest of the casino.”

Overall, the expansion project added key non-gaming amenities that can help keep customers at the resort even longer. “The synergy between the three additions was intentional to draw popular international headline acts and brand recognition, create new market demand and appeal to the strong existing customer base,” Bell shares. “The design intent is to maximize the guest experience by introducing fresh, new amenities and entertainment options to entice a larger market segment, while improving offerings for the strong existing customer base. “

This desire to improve is essential for casinos as more states are choosing to enter or expand casino gaming, increasing competition. The Four Winds New Buffalo expansion project truly helps the property’s competitive positioning in the Chicago area. Bell shared that both the Hard Rock Cafe and the new Silver Creek Event Center are already proving to be a draw for top acts, luring people from great distances.

HBG was extremely pleased with the collaborative working relationship between their team, the Four Winds owners and the other groups involved in the successful expansion. “We really applaud the Four Winds leadership operations and tribal leadership for engaging the process so passionately,” Peak says. “No project is a product of one or two people. We achieved our success because the key ingredients of collaboration were present.”

Bell agrees wholeheartedly. “We had an extremely engaged ownership that allowed our design team to fully engage in the design process, and allowed the contractors, The Christman Co. and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., to engage in the construction process,” he says. “Working together, we were able to produce some truly exciting results and, of course, help Four Winds and the Pokagons meet their business goals.”

Matt Wesaw, chairman of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, says he and the Pokagon tribe couldn’t be happier with the finished resort. “We want our guests to have a strong emotional connection to our property when they visit Four Winds,” he says. “[HBG’s planning and design] provided the framework for that to occur, creating a unique sense of place with great attention to details that are important for both our tribe and our customer base.”

He concludes, “We are confident the one-of-a-kind music, entertainment, food and hotel offerings we’ve created with this expansion will keep our players coming back for more.”