Four Winds Hartford Casino might be modest in size, but its impact is extraordinary. Opened Aug. 30 of this year, the 52,000-square-foot casino created approximately 400 new jobs and represented a step forward for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
“The opening of this casino marks another step on our path to independence,” said Matt Wesaw, chairman of the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation. “It allows us to continue the efforts to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
In 2010, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians hired Hnedak Bobo Group (HBG) to design the new Four Winds Hartford Casino in Hartford, Mich., the first brand expansion of its Four Winds Casino. The $40 million Hartford Casino serves as a satellite casino to its sister property 40 minutes away in New Buffalo, Mich.
“The overall intent of the new facility was to expand the success and brand of the tribe’s first Four Winds Casino gaming facility,” said Dike Bacon, principal at HBG. Bacon added that the Hartford Casino will draw customers from Chicago, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Mich.
The casino is located two miles southwest of Hartford and is situated on a 15-acre site. It sits adjacent to Red Arrow Highway, which borders the property to the south. Located on a former soybean field, a river runs along the northeast corner of the site. The property is tucked back on the site off of the highway on the other side of a tall hill leading down the road, which creates a sense of anticipation for guests.
HBG’s design team, led by Rick Gardner, AIA, partner in charge, and Paul Bell, AIA, project manager, developed a project plan with the Pokagon Four Winds Casino operations team that involved a schedule of regular feedback meetings to customize design options.
“The design process was wholly interactive,” Bell said. “We met with key Four Winds leadership in a series of workshops to understand their facility and marketing needs, and we tailored our process and design to meet those needs. “
To kick off the workshop series, Four Winds provided a tour of their existing facility, allowing HBG designers to become familiar with and emulate the efficiency and operational needs for the Hartford Casino.
The Pokagon Tribal Board, made up of 11 members, served as the final review committee on all design decisions. During design, the board met with designers in a “Cultural Elements Workshop”, an “ask questions, listen and understand” session where the tribe was able to vocalize cultural needs and wants, including origins and meanings of tribal symbolism and other aspects of tribal history.
“In addition to engaging the owner in these workshops, the contractors, Christman Co. and Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., were also key players in the project plan,” Bell said. “It was essential to have their input on cost and sequencing in order to efficiently tailor early release packages for an accelerated project delivery.”
“In our first planning and design workshop with the tribe, we set forth a number of goals,” Gardner said. “Integration of Pokagon culture and continuity of the Four Winds Casino brand was crucial to the casino’s design.” The design by HBG weaves cultural elements throughout the casino interior and exterior in representation of the tribe.
Environmentally conscious practices were employed during the construction and design. Natural indigenous species of plants were used in landscaping. Light-colored thermoplastic olefin roofing was used, along with synthetic stone called Environmental Stoneworks. Excess of the materials can be recycled and reused.
“The design is inspired by regional, rustic elements that connect tribal references and symbolism to the guest experience,” Gardner said. “The design basis for the new facility was to keep a similar palette of materials as the Four Winds New Buffalo Casino Resort without creating an exact copy of that facility.”
Stone, copper and red cedar are used to detail the exterior of the gaming facility. Adjacent to the three-lane porte cochere is a 50-foot-tall stone chimney. The Pokagon Band believes fire is the eyes and ears of their ancestors.
“The tall icon feature helps to promote the Four Winds brand, as well as signify the tribe’s cultural identity as the ‘keepers of the fire,’ ” Gardner added. It also acts as a landmark for casino guests.
The round red cedar log columns at the porte cochere and the standing seam metal mansard roofs on the east façade were designed to help link the property to the first Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo.
The interior design incorporates significant tribal motifs and symbolism that include the four cardinal directions, animals and sweet grass.
“The cardinal directions informed the directional placement of building elements,” said Nathan Peak, AIA, project designer and senior associate at HBG. “The river otter and bear are integrated into custom-designed light fixtures and fireplace elements.” A significant medicine of the north, sweet grass designs are integrated into custom finishes including bronze door pulls and decorative screening.
Within the chimney tower, located between the entry foyer and the Four Winds Outfitters gift shop, is an “eternal flame” hearth room for guest lounging. The focal point of the room is a 360-degree circular fire pit covered by a copper hood. Copper is significant to the Pokagon Band because they were the first to use copper metal in tool and jewelry making. A custom fireplace screen integrates a bear of the north, the tribal clan symbol, and abstracted cattail with sweet grass elements. Tribal ribbonwork designs were the inspiration for hammered reliefs in the copper fireplace.
Birchwood is another important organic element to the Pokagon Tribe. The tribe used the white birch bark to cover wigwams, build canoes, make dishes and create fires. HBG designers used faux birchwood logs to create a unique pit canopy for the central table gaming area. Floor patterns represent tribal basket weaving.
“Given the integration of cultural motifs in to the design, specialty fabricators and artisans were brought in to create the distinctive metalwork and artwork,” Peak said. “To ensure cultural authentication, the Pokagon Tribal Board developed the Pokagon Art Council to review all specialty artwork created for the Four Winds Hartford Casino.”
The casino floor was designed in an “L” configuration to enhance the perceived size of the casino. In the southwest corner of the facility is the 100-seat Timbers restaurant. The main dining area is in the middle of the gaming floor, making it very accessible.
“The gaming floor itself feels spacious and comfortable with wayfinding signage to help the guest navigate throughout,” Peak said. The floor has 500 slot machines, nine table games including blackjack and roulette, and a 15-seat bar.
A special covered entry for VIP members sits on the east side of the casino, allowing shorter travel distances from the parking area to the casino. The back-of-house structure is parallel with the front-of-house gaming floor structure, allowing for efficient operations.
The Four Winds Hartford Casino design is a multi-phase plan. This first phase of design and construction was completed on schedule, 14 months from design start to construction end, and in budget.
“It didn’t take long for the principals of HBG to understand our culture, traditions, philosophy and our intent to translate the quality level of our Four Winds New Buffalo Casino into the design of the Four Winds Hartford,” Wesaw said. “This allowed HBG to design a beautiful property that will create a familiarity for our guests equivalent to the experience they enjoy at Four Winds New Buffalo. We are proud to be partners with Hnedak Bobo Group.”
Buzzing with excitement, Wesaw welcomed the public to the grand opening celebration of the casino. Tribal council members took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony under the porte cochere.
There is no doubt the Four Winds Hartford Casino will prove itself to be as successful as its sister.
Owner: Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation
Operator: Four Winds Casino Resort
Architect and Interior Designer: Hnedak Bobo Group
Contractors: Christman Co.; Kraus-Anderson Construction Co.
Structural Engineer: Uzun & Case Engineers
Mechanical Engineer: FEA Engineers
Signage/Graphics: Lorenc + Yoo Design
Civil Engineer: Wightman Engineers