After years of deliberate and intensive planning, come February, Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison will present its plans for a major development to the city.
That expansion will not only increase the casino square footage, but provide what Ho-Chunk Gaming hopes will be a “showcase of this city,” including a conference center, hotel, parking ramps and Heritage Center to tell the Ho-Chunk story.
“It’s super, super exciting. We’ve had two feasibility studies conducted and we’re confident that this market could support the size and scope of this project,” said Dan Brown, executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison. “We’re really excited about the fact we're actually to a point of presenting to the city.”
The project is slated to appear before the city’s Urban Design Commission for an introductory presentation of the General Development Plan on Feb. 13.
Plans for the more than 40-acre property include a 33,000 square foot Heritage Center, a 145,000 square foot casino addition, a 15,000 square foot conference and entertainment center, a hotel with 150 to 250 rooms, and two 1,000-stall parking structures.
Brown said that construction would likely begin with the hotel, then casino addition (followed by a remodel of the existing casino facilities), and then the conference center.
The design will have abstract elements of Ho-Chunk designs as well as nods to Madison so it will “blend nicely” with the city, Brown said. The project will also focus on sustainability, considering solar, green roofs, and geothermal as a potential energy source for parts of the project.
“It speaks to our survival. Sustainability has been our way of life for thousands of years,” said Missy Tracy, municipal relations coordinator for Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison.
The Ho-Chunk team is particularly excited about the Heritage Center, meant to tell the Ho-Chunk story in their “own voice” and engender tolerance, sensitivity and understanding.
“We’re framing it as a history place, it’s not a museum,” Brown said. “It’s an opportunity for us to just convey a lot of really incredibly fascinating information. We are survivors of some really challenging federal policies.”
“We have an 11,000 year history to talk about, so it’s not lacking in content,” Tracy said. “It’s not going to be a static museum.”
They’re in discussion with the Wisconsin Historical Society to make sure their efforts are complementary to the WHS planned museum expansion, Brown said, and Tracy said the Heritage Center will also partner with local Latino, black and Hmong communities to host temporary exhibits.
As the casino has thought about expansion over the last few years, they’ve worked with the city on the possibility of building a $38 million sports complex. A 2017 feasibility study found such a venue could create $2.1 million in revenue in the first year.
Building a sports complex is still a possibility, but it’s likely years down the road, Tracy said. With the city responsible for the outdoor fields and the tribe responsible for the indoor facilities, they always knew it would take “quite a bit of time” to come together, she said.
Before it could become a reality, the city would need to find funding, and the Ho-Chunk Nation has “significant investments in three of our gaming facilities and we’re not entirely certain that the appetite from our government ... is going to be there,” Brown said. Plus, there’s the issue of safe access to the site.
Right now, accessing the Madison casino requires a turn off US 12/18, and there’s concern that adding large amounts of traffic volume via a sports center would be too much for the road, Brown said. Talks with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation suggest that the area would need an interchange further down the road, with a frontage road doubling back to the casino, Brown said.
If the city approves the project GDP, it would still need approval of a Specific Implementation Plan, plus approval from the Ho-Chunk legislature, Brown said. That means if “all the stars align, and that’s a heavy lift,” they could possibly break ground in early 2020. But if the proposed Ho-Chunk casino in Beloit project finally gains the necessary approvals, that could also shift the timeline, as the nation will have to decide how to prioritize the two major projects, Brown said.
“So much of this rests on our government and whether or not our government is prepared to move ahead,” Brown said.
“We’re excited about this not only for the Ho-Chunk Nation, but for the Madison community as well. We feel this market, for what we’re looking to do, is the absolute perfect place to do this,” Tracy said. “We’ve really done our homework over the last four years with bringing this development and the draw it’s going to have.”