—By: David Schuyler – Article for The Business Journal—
The owners of Potawatomi Bingo Casino may be an Indian tribe, but what they got from a $240 million investment in expanding their Menomonee Valley casino looks more like Las Vegas than the Forest County Potawatomi’s northwoods homeland.
Nonetheless, American Indian heritage abounds, from the intricate metal lattice-work of the central bar – an “in-the-round” watering hole shaped much like the pow-wow and gathering grounds of the reservation – to a pair of dreamcatchers suspended above the gaming floor that fuel visitors’ dreams of hitting the jackpot. The new casino is also heavy in stonework and materials that are natural in appearance, but a sleeker and cleaner look and added glitz through the fanciful play of light are pure Vegas.
The bright atmosphere is in stark contrast to the dominant woodland theme of the existing casino, which is divided in sections to represent the four seasons of the year. In all, the sleek expansion adds more than a half-million square-feet and will lend to the hiring of 1,000 new employees, bringing total employment to about 3,000.
“We wanted to stick with the Native American theme, but not quite as natural or as literal as the existing casino was,” said David Brien, facilities manager for Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 1721 W. Canal St., Milwaukee.
In many ways, the sandstone masonry and smooth marble floor of the new grand entryway establish an atmosphere that’s more Southwest United States that the Great Lakes. Entering through the new front doors of the casino, visitors see three curved stone walls separated by gaps that direct visitors in one of three directions – to the old casino, to the Buffet and other new, or to the new casino.
Enter the Buffet, and it’s apparent that the new space has few straight lines. In the new Buffet, which moved to the first from the third floor, the food “action stations” wrap around one side of the dining area, a design, Potawatomi officials say, that brings the food closer to the diners. The bright walls of orange, red, yellow and green pastels also swirl about the room, subdued in part by dark oak paneling. Outside the Buffet, the new gaming room beckons, with all the lights and glitter of a modern Las Vegas casino. Unlike the old casino, the slot machines are more widely spaced, and clearly indicated paths show the way through the gaming area to the high-stakes gaming room or the restaurants.
Ru Yi, Potawatomi’s new, Asian-themed and casual sit-down restaurant was added to provide an attraction for Asian customers. Asians comprise a significant portion of the casino gaming market, and the 90-seat Ru Yi allows the casino to provide additional service to those customers, Brien said.
Across the new gaming floor from Ru Yi, the upscale Dream Dance has a new location that features abundant natural light during the day and classy dining by a “string of pearls” chandelier by night. Dark black oak veneer paneling adds to the elegance. A third restaurant, the American-style Wild Earth, and a food court featuring Mexican food, pastries, sandwiches and deli items, are slated to open in the coming weeks.
But the centerpiece of the new gaming floor isn’t the restaurants of the tables or the slots – it’s Bar360, a raised, centrally located space that features elaborate metal latticework sprouting from behind the bartenders working the square bar in the middle. The ceiling and lattice, resembling a dreamcatcher design, is lit from below by 10 layers of multi-colored programmable lighting, creating the illusion of a kinetic sculpture. In all, Bar360 alone is awash in varying mood lighting from 32 moving robotic LED fixtures and 882 individually programmable LED fixtures, said Marty Peck, principal for Creative Lighting Design & Engineering in Germantown and lighting designer for much of the Potawatomi project.
“It’s very much in tune with the Las Vegas style,” Peck said.
Peck and his firm also designed the lighting that provides the backdrop for a pair of large stylized dreamcatchers in the ceiling above the gaming floor. Like Bar360, the dreamcatchers are illuminated by programmable LED fixtures that cal alter the mood. The challenge, Peck said, was aligning those lights with all of the other lights and glitz common to a casino floor.
“It’s a challenge because it’s never been done before,” Peck said, “It’s a combination of an abstract spirituality with a form of artistry.”
The design remains in tune with native culture while imbuing a deliberately modern feel. The reason, said Barry Marshall, a principal with the project’s architecture firm Hnedak Bobo Group Inc. of Memphis, Tenn., is that the market for the casino is predominantly urban.
“We did a market study and determined that we would be able to capture a lot of people in the north Chicago area,” Marshall said.
A more contemporary design is likely not only to attract that urban crowd, but a younger clientele as well, he said.
However, younger crowds, and even large portion of the casino’s current customers, tend to drive to the casino. That created a unique challenge for the design team, MArshall said, because most people will enter the casino from the expanded parking garage south of the complex, and not from the north through the front door. With most guest entering from the back door, designers were challenged to create a memorable entry point.
The solution, Marshall said, was the so-called “Welcome Wall” a 62-foot-by-123-foot wall of lighted tiles of 632 programmable fixtures, designed in part by Creative Lighting Design. He said the floor-to-roof curtain of aluminum and etched glass panel is designed to present an energetic welcome for Potawatomi’s guest.
“We really had to create an energetic and exciting back door,” Marshall said. “It kind of became the focal point of the garage.”