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Community breaks ground at Treasure Island

Expansion likely

to add 50 jobs

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

RED WING — Art Owen, a spiritual leader in the Prairie Island Indian Community, helped bury a buffalo heart Friday at the site of a planned expansion for Treasure Island Resort & Casino.

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By offering the heart to the four great powers that the Mdewakanton Dakota believe in, tribal members seek abundance and generosity — from this expansion just as they have in previous building projects involving the complex.

Owen led tribal members and about 200 others attending the groundbreaking ceremony in a prayer asking that the building be "full of good things, good prayers and good thoughts."

The Prairie Island Indian Community, with about 700 members, owns and operates Treasure Island. It started with bingo in 1984 and then was known as Island Bingo. The gaming operation there has grown during the years so that now it includes 2,500 slots, 44 table games and a 10-table poker room. A 250-room hotel opened in 1996. A marina, RV park and cruise yacht are among its other amenities.

Planned changes

The $50 million expansion will add another 230 hotel rooms, a 30,000-square-foot event center with a 2,800-seat showroom, and a family fun center with a 24-lane bowling alley. At least 50 more jobs will be created once construction is complete in 2008.

Prairie Island, the largest employer in Goodhue County, employs about 1,600 people and produces more than $14 million annually in state and federal taxes. The tribe and casino have contributed $14 million to charitable organizations since 1994, according to the tribe.

"We have planned and dreamed of our successes," said Audrey Bennett, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council. The resort and casino have moved tribal members toward self-sufficiency as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act intended, she said.

Linda Owen, sister to Art Owen, attended Friday’s ceremony; she was at the site 25 years ago when the tribe broke ground for Island Bingo. She couldn’t imagine then what it would become.

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"We had hopes and dreams, but no, we didn’t expect it to go to this magnitude," she said.

Fruits of success

Owen, who is in her 50s, remembers bleak times for the tribe in the 1960s and 1970s when it had a high unemployment rate. When the bingo operation started, it "pretty much wiped out unemployment" in the community, she said.

Another important result of the financial success, Owen said, is that more tribal members are going on to college.

Those in the tourism industry describe Treasure Island as a magnet in the Mississippi River Valley.

Kathy Silverthorn, executive director of the Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau, said that many Treasure Island guests made up the 1 million to 1.5 million visitors who came to Red Wing last year. Treasure Island guests often shop in Red Wing or take tours at local wineries and other destinations.

Shannan Harris, owner of Moments on Main — a boutique along Main Street in Red Wing that sells gifts, accessories and home decor — said she sees customers who come from Treasure Island to shop. Sometimes, women come into the store with cash to spend that they’ve won at the casino.

"It’s a draw to our area, certainly," Harris said.

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She’s had the business for two years, and although she’s satisfied with how things have gone, "business can always be busier," Harris said.

The early portion of the tourist season has been relatively quiet in Red Wing, she said, and she’s not sure what’s contributing to it.

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