Mille Lacs Band looks to purchase 2 hotels in St. Paul

Crowne Plaza Hotel
The Crowne Plaza Hotel on Kellogg Blvd. in downtown St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 8, 2013. The hotel has been up for sale since August 2012. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has announced its intention to purchase two hotels in downtown St. Paul, and the Crowne Plaza is believed to be one of them.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe announced plans today to purchase two hotels in downtown St. Paul, a deal that would give the bands ownership of nearly half of the capital city's downtown hotel rooms.

Band leaders say the move is not about expanding the tribe's gambling business, but rather the beginning of a national business plan aimed at diversifying. The band plans to purchase its first hotel outside of the state by the end of the year.

The Mille Lacs band isn't yet identifying the properties it's negotiating for, but several sources with knowledge of the deal told MPR News that the band plans to purchase the Crowne Plaza and the DoubleTree hotels in St. Paul for an undisclosed amount.

The purchase and sale agreement for both should be finalized by Friday and the deal completed in the next two months.

Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin told band members about the plan today during her annual State of the Band Address. Benjamin described the move as a return to self-reliance for the band, something she said centuries of broken treaties and stolen lands have taken. "Today survival means competing in the American economy," Benjamin said. "Our goal must be economic self sufficiency."

Melanie Benjamin
Melanie Benjamin is chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, in a photo at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013.
MPR Photo/Conrad Wilson

To survive as a culture and a people, Benjamin said, it's critical that the band diversify its business holdings beyond gambling.

"We don't want to be tied to one industry as we were once tied to the federal government," she said. "We seek to be self reliant ... and able to chose our path to our future."

Several senior tribal officials, including Benjamin, were clear that the decision to buy the hotels in downtown St. Paul will not expand gambling to the Twin Cities.

To find suitable properties, the band began working more than six months ago with the Minneapolis-based Graves Hospitality Corporation.

The company will manage the day-to-day activities at the hotels, said its president, Benjamin Graves. It will also lead renovations that should be complete in the next year and a half.

Graves said his company hopes to work with the band on future deals.

Doubletree Hotel
The Doubletree Hotel in downtown St. Paul, on Jan. 8, 2013. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has announced its intention to purchase two hotels in downtown St. Paul, and the Doubletree is believed to be one of them. The Crowne Plaza Hotel on Kellogg Boulevard is believed to be the other.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

There could be many. The band said it plans to purchase its first hotel outside of the state by the end of the year.

Joe Nayquonabe, the Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band, said it aims to establish hospitality assets in every major market in the country.

"As we've put together this strategy and our investment criteria, we've kind of came to recognize that we have to think bigger and we have to think broader about where we go with our economic development activity," Nayquonabe said. "We're trying to set the goal high and get the band thinking a lot bigger than what we have in the past."

City officials in St. Paul cheered the news, which comes less than a week after the city learned Macy's will close its downtown store.

Joe Campbell, a spokesperson for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said the city leaders are glad the band views St. Paul as a smart investment.

"The downtown of today is much different than even the downtown of even a decade ago and we're in a much stronger place now," Campbell said. "I think that a new investment like this is evidence of the fact that investors want to be in downtown St. Paul. The developers want to be in downtown St. Paul, and people want to be in downtown St. Paul and this certainly goes a long way of showing that."

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