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Minnesota resort expands to attract more convention business

WELCH, Minn. - The Prairie Island Sioux Community will enter another phase of planned economic growth with a new $50 million convention center and hotel.

The PISC operates the second most successful casino in the region, Treasure Island, which has a growth potential that warranted the expansion into a full-scale convention facility with a hotel expansion to accommodate the increase in visitors.

Even though it is the second largest, it has the fewest hotel rooms. The expansion will include 230 additional hotel rooms to bring the total to 480 rooms. Two hotel wings will be connected by a sky bridge that will feature suites and views of the Mississippi River.

Treasure Island Marketing Director Bryan Prettyman said the existing hotel operates at about 98 percent capacity, unprecedented in the

hotel industry.

''It's always been on the tribal council's mind that this needed to be done. We were heavily discussing options six months ago and we received the final approval from the community three weeks ago,'' Prettyman said.

The proposed 30,000-square-foot event center will accommodate large conventions and top-level entertainment. At present, the entertainment venue seats only 900 people. The proposed entertainment complex will seat 2,800 people, which opens up the possibility of ''A'' level touring entertainment.

Prairie Island is located approximately one hour south of the Twins Cities on the Mississippi River, the only resort and casino operation in the Midwest located on a major river.

The event center will break into six rooms, each with outside entrances, according to a release. Another feature of the new complex will be a family fun center that will include a 24-lane Brunswick bowling alley, separate party rooms, snack bar, arcade and lounge.

''This project in an investment that will secure Treasure Island's status as a premier entertainment destination and a leading contributor to the local economy,'' Audrey Bennett, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council, said in a release.

With the new expansion, more than 50 new employees will be added to the list. That will bring the list to more than 1,600 employees with a payroll in excess of $50 million.

''We are proud to partner with the surrounding communities to bring tourists to this area and to continue to give back to the community in many ways,'' Bennett said.

Prairie Island also owns a 125-passenger cruise ship on the Mississippi River, a 137-slip marina and a 95-site RV park.

Prettyman said the river is a large drawing card for the resort, and the marina charges competitive prices so as not to undercut privately owned marinas in the area.

The resort and casino are far enough removed from the Twin City metro area to warrant the additional hotel rooms.

''Because of our limited size, we couldn't do a convention center without the hotel,'' Prettyman said.

As for entertainment, Treasure Island has had to rely on lower-level entertainment because of the limited size of the venue. Still, every performance has been sold out.

Because of the location - south of the Twin Cities and in a more rural area - the resort and casino became a destination. With a slower-pace atmosphere and spectacular scenery, this offers the largest convention and resort facility in the southeaster portion of Minnesota.

The expansion does not include any additions or changes in the casino part of the operation, Prettyman continued.

''Thankfully, the casino side had all their ducks in a row,'' he said.

The expansion will be financed with a main banking partner of the community, yet to be named, but a local construction company has been chosen.

Prettyman said a major factor in the success of the resort and casino is the team members.

''We have a low turnover rate, and the vast majority of our team members have been here in excess of five years and there are numerous employees that were here when bingo came. They've made an investment in us, as well as we have with them,'' Prettyman said.

''Our team members are more than just a team member and we try to make them feel that way,'' he said.

Construction was scheduled to begin June 1, with an expected completion date in the fall of 2008.