Kalispel Tribe Plans Big Expansions

Jack McNeel

Jack McNeel

Diversity is the name of the game, with many of the projects having a May completion date.

The Kalispel Tribe is going all out to expand and improve its holdings on the West Plains, just west of downtown Spokane, Washington. A huge apartment complex will be built, plus a large RV park which includes cottages, plus improvements to Northern Quest Resort and Casino, plus a theater complex that’s state-of-the art.

Ground breaking recently took place for the casino expansion and the R.V. Park. Phil Haugen, Chief Operating Officer for Kalispel Tribal Economic Authority, explained that the roughly 50,000 square feet expansion of the casino is not for additional gaming machines but to make it more family oriented. It will house Kid Quest with electronic games for youngsters plus Cyber Quest with adult activities like pool games, ping pong tables, and other things of that nature. The majority of the expansion will contain Windfall, the tribe’s own retail shop carrying traditional retail items. A portion of that shop will contain tribal made goods including items by local tribal artists.

Phil’s son, Brandon Haugen, is General Manager of Kalispel Development Company. “We’re scheduled to break ground on the apartments this fall and then the movie theaters are scheduled to also break ground this fall.” He added that the majority of the projects should wrap up next May.

Brandon added, “The apartments will be phased in. The first building will likely open 12 months after we break ground. Every month after that we’ll be looking at opening another apartment building. Six buildings are planned so in 18 months after we break ground it will be complete. There will be 216 units in total. The apartments will range from one to three bedrooms and sizes range from 800 square feet, 1,100 square feet, and 1,400 square feet.

Fairchild Air Force Base is located just a short distance away and with new planes allocated to Fairchild in the next three years it will bring roughly a thousand new people into the market. “We’re going to promote these residential assets,” Phil said. “Our 216 units of apartments will help alleviate the influx of people.”

If that weren’t enough, the RV resort will also have upwards of 60 sites for RVs and 20 additional small cottages. “These will be really cool,” Brandon said. “They are 399 square feet and will come with beautiful patios and an amenity center with a pool and all sorts of cool things.”

The six-screen theater complex will be in conjunction with the apartments. CineGenesis Inc. will be doing the construction. Their CEO, Larry Jacobson, was quoted in the Spokesman Review newspaper saying “I’ve designed thousands of theaters. Nothing will compare to this.”

Phil described the facility. “This will offer very limited seating with 50 to 60 seats in each theater and six theaters within the building. You will enter through a restaurant and can order a meal and have a cocktail or soft drink brought to you by waitresses so there will be a dining experience with the movie. The screens will be designed so no matter where you’re sitting it’s like you’re looking head-on at the screen. The building will measure 25,000 square feet with reclining seats and theater-style seating.”

Phil has worked here for nearly 17 years and has seen several additions over the years before this latest addition and more growth is planned for the future. “We feel the tribes who have done best, not just locally but across the country, are those who have diversified and gone into different areas. We’re not limited to what business we do. We’re finding other things the community needs.”

Two years ago the tribe purchased the old Country Club Golf Course in Spokane, “the nicest golf course in town,” Brandon added. The restaurant there is among the best in Spokane as well.

During renovation of the golf course restaurant employees of Northern Quest did some of the upholstery work on the booths. The designer was impressed and asked if they could do another job. That has now progressed to having an upholstery business available to the public.

In a similar line they have created a laundry service, Kalispel Linen Services, and now do all of Providence Hospital’s laundry. “We’re approaching 10 million pounds of commercially processed laundry annually, with the capacity to do about 30 million pounds,” Brandon explained.

About 150 new employees will be added to the staff on the West Plains property which includes more than 70 at the theaters alone. Phil said roughly 1,900 in total work here. The main reservation is about 60 miles north near the town of Usk, Washington and another 450 people work there. “There was a time we were going to declare bankruptcy. We only had 30 employees. Now we have about 2,300 between the two locations.”

Brandon’s background is unique in Indian country and ideal for his current job. His undergraduate degree in geography has an emphasis in city planning. He then added an MBA degree in Business Administration in American Indian Entrepreneurship from Gonzaga University.

He points out the tribe is drawing customers by diversifying and adding amenities and not depending just on gaming. “Our job is to be smart and take the opportunities we have and expand on them and keep them growing. We’re constantly looking for new investment opportunities outside the confines of gaming.”

Brandon added, “We’ll be doing some work near Usk and announcing some things soon. It’s pretty exciting there too.”

Phil summarized the work by referring to the tribal way of planning for the next seven generations. “We make sure we’re providing for them. I hope all tribes look at that and make sound business decisions, make things best for the tribe, and protect tribal culture in their decision making. I hope that happens all across the country.”