Home is where the heart is, and for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, both can be found in Dowagiac, Mich. After the success of the Four Winds Hartford and New Buffalo properties, the tribe thought it was time for a new project—and one right in their native homeland. “People have asked, why build here, why Dowagiac?” said Matt Wesaw, tribal chairman of the Pokagon Band. “I tell them because this is home … home to the tribe’s governmental offices, housing development and many of the band’s 4,600 citizens.”
Built on what was about 70 acres of soybean fields, three miles south of downtown Dowagiac, the new casino will not only provide entertainment for the local gaming market, but also create new employment opportunities for the tribe’s community. With 305 slot machines, four table games and a large Timbers restaurant and bar, the casino is expected to employ a number of tribal citizens. “The benefit of people coming to our facility and having a good time [will] allow us to improve the quality of life for our tribal citizens,” Wesaw added.
Designing with Culture in Mind
An expansion of the Pokagon tribe’s popular Four Winds brand, the new casino was designed in accordance with the cultural schemes seen at the other two casinos as both owner and operator wished to have synergy among all three branded properties. “After we completed Hartford and the New Buffalo expansion, our design mission became to create a property with [a] look similar to the larger Four Winds casinos, but with a much more ‘local’ feel,” explained Paul Bell, project manager and principal at Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG). “I think that was accomplished for Dowagiac.” All three casinos pay homage to Potawatomi culture, reflecting the nature of the tribe through design, color scheme and the use of natural materials.
The casino exterior consists of an intricate combination of stone, western red cedar ceilings and columns, copper-flashing details and standing seam metal roofs. Upon entering the casino, guests are greeted by the “eternal flame” hearth lounge, featuring a circular fire pit covered by a copper hood. As the tribe was the first to use copper metal in tool and jewelry making, this use of copper is a symbol of the tribe’s heritage.
Birch wood is another material important to the Pokagon Tribe, and the designers used faux birch logs to create a unique canopy for the central table gaming pit. The white birch wood above a table gaming area and stones used in the construction were all taken from the area around the casino. Birchwood ceiling features, copper cage screening, hammered copper fireplace elements and bronze door pulls all integrate significant tribal motifs. Floor patterns were designed to represent tribal basket weaving, and artwork significant to tribal citizens is featured throughout the property.
Specialty fabricators and artisans were brought in to create the distinctive metalwork and artwork, and tribal artwork in the hearth room was provided by various Pokagon tribal members. To ensure cultural authentication, the Pokagon Tribal Board created the Pokagon Art Council for the review of all specialty artwork created for the casino.
Having served as both architect and designer for the Four Winds Hartford property and the large-scale expansion at the New Buffalo Casino Resort, HBG had already established a rapport with the Four Winds team and knew a great deal about the vision for the casino. This assisted the team when planning how to best weave Potawatomi tribal elements together with a contemporary design. “Our relationship with the tribe during previous projects has given us an incredible opportunity to appreciate how the Pokagon culture shapes the Four Winds brand,” said HBG Principal-in-Charge Rick Gardner. Chief Operating Officer of the Pokagon’s three Four Winds Casino properties Matt Harkness agreed. “Working with the design team at HBG has helped us carry the Four Winds brand and vision across all of our properties,” he expressed.
HBG conducted a cultural investigation to better understand what elements tribal citizens wanted to incorporate into their gaming properties and communicated with tribal council members throughout the project. “We had input on the design details, such as images of otters and water lilies,” said tribal council member Tom Topash. “The designers really listened to us. It’s all there.”
Communication between HBG and contractors Christman/Kraus-Anderson—a joint-venture between The Christman Co. and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co.—was also crucial to ensuring that the design came to life. All parties agree that their partnership was highly effective. “It has been a great collaborative effort working with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi’s and Hnedak Bobo Group to deliver this quality project,” said Mark Coudron, senior vice president with Christman/Kraus-Anderson. “We’ve worked together on multiple projects over several years now and as a result we’ve grown into a highly cohesive team.”
Use of Revit/BIM modeling during construction made it easy for the contractors to understand the casino’s architectural design. They were able to work collaboratively with HBG’s Revit/BIM model in order to access and coordinate all ductwork and structural beams above the plenum. This hands-on application helped minimize any design-to-construction errors, thus streamlining and facilitating an orderly construction process.
The Creation of a Cultural Legacy
On April 29, 2013, the Four Winds Dowagiac held a day of private gaming for its tribal citizens. The following day, the tribe celebrated the grand opening of its new 27,000 square foot property and the casino was officially open to the public. According to Wesaw, the response from visitors has been terrific thus far, and the tribe is pleased with the contributions of this new casino, built at the very heart of their home. About 60 percent of Four Winds Dowagiac employees are tribal citizens, and revenue from the property will go right into the community.
Topash also expressed his pleasure at the success of the property and its role in providing more opportunity for the tribe. “Never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen the property we have and the way we can support our people,” he said. “I’ve always said that the casinos are the economic engine, but the culture is our legacy. The casinos afford us the opportunity to hire teachers and preserve our culture and language.”