Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Blackjack, Indianhead ski resorts merge; casino mulled


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During the summer, Indianhead Mountain Resort, near Wakefield, and Blackjack Ski Area, near Bessemer, were brought under one new owner, Art Dumke.

At the start of this year’s winter season, Big Snow Resorts started offering combined passes that allow outdoor enthusiasts to ski or snowboard both hills with the same season pass. They also offer a shuttle service.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to operate these resorts and tailor our offering to produce the best possible ski experience to Midwest skiers,” said Barry Bolich, general manager of Indianhead and Blackjack.

Casino considerations

In the beginning of October, Indianhead made it known it was considering the construction of a 140-bed hotel and casino complex to sit atop the mountain.

The casino would be built in partnership with the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, which also plan to offer a shuttle service to the hotel and casino in Watersmeet.

“At this point, we’ve entered into and signed a letter of intent ... to pursue and study the feasibility of building a hotel and casino at the top of Indianhead Mountain,” said Bolich. “It’s very early in the process to say much more than that … and as we know more, we will share what we can.”

The ski hill does not sit on tribal lands, so in order for the casino to work, LVD needs to secure a land trust to operate it, said John Cox, Wakefield Township supervisor. The tribe also needs approval from the federal government as well as Gov. Rick Snyder.

“The hotel can be in township land, and that’s what we’re going to insist on because we want some tax revenue for it,” Cox said.

Wakefield Township sent letters to residents to gauge public opinion for the project.

A public information meeting was held on Oct. 22 at the Indianhead Mountain Sky Bar, as well. According to the resolution sent out to local governments, there was overwhelming public support shown at this meeting.

Local resolutions

Bessemer city council voiced support for the proposed hotel and casino, citing the potential job creation for the area, estimated at 200 jobs.

“It certainly will create jobs in the area in the event that it should occur,” said councilman Al Gaiss. “I see a real plus for the area work-wise. Standards of living should go up, higher wages for many people (and) lots of jobs that don’t currently exist, if all this happens.”

Councilman Doug Olsen spoke of the benefits of the conference center planned as part of the hotel complex.

“The hotel that’s associated with this, there’s going to be a conference center, which lends the possibility of bringing in people into the area for meetings during the summer, not just for the winter,” Olsen said.

The council unanimously supported the casino resolution.

Wakefield Township’s board discussed the possibility that Indianhead would have to be rezoned if the project continues. Joan Dalman, treasurer, said she liked the idea of a hotel, but not a casino.

“I just believe in the long run it will do more harm than good,” she said.

Board member Jim Spencer said he believed the revenue from the proposed resort could help improve the township’s roads and more.

Cox said, “I believe this project will be a big boost to tourism and other possibilities in our area.”

The Bessemer Township board supported the resolution after some initial questioning.

Supervisor Jeffrey Randall said, “I was going to vote ‘no’ on this, but after reading up on it. … It will help some economic development. I’m not expecting a lot, but if there’s going to be some for the area, I’m all for the economic development. And for that reason, I will support it.”

After initially putting the resolution on file, the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of support in a 5-1 vote during an early December meeting.

At this meeting, Dumke said it should benefit the area.

“The goal is to get the community to work on one project that could spill into other projects,” Dumke said.

Starting in mid-December, a feasibility study was started, to see how the planning and building process would unfold.

In the future

Bolich said plans are to start construction of the convention center and casino in the spring of 2016, but there are many considerations before anything truly gets underway.

Though, even if the casino and convention center is not built, ski hill representatives said current Indianhead buildings would be updated instead.