Scenic Symbolism at Casino Resort

July 1, 2008

MANISTEE, MI - The Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, MI, has officially re-opened after significant exterior and interior expansions and additions. The resort's owner, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, appointed TBG, one of the nation's top landscape architecture and planning firms, to provide site planning and landscape architectural services. Alpena, MI-based DeVere Construction Company Inc. served as the general contractor, while Memphis, TN-based Hnedak Bobo Group Inc. served as the project's architect.

Photo provided by TBG Partners

The project team's design goals were first and foremost to utilize a design style that was representative of the Ottawa tribe's native culture, to make seamless transitions between the resort's interior and exterior and to create abundant passive activity space. The casino resort, located in one of Michigan's most scenic areas, originally opened in 2003 with 200 rooms, but due to its growing popularity and close proximity to major metropolitan areas, the resort was in need of a considerable expansion and exterior renovation.

Highlights of the resort's massive renovation include its stone-and-water-themed interior and exterior, which are interconnected with "all-season" spaces. For the exterior, TBG designed a Winter Garden that features a waterfall, river, bridges, an outdoor bar area with heated floors, a giant fish tank, and a 70-foot glass ceiling. An outdoor courtyard with three fire pits - symbolic of the three tribes of the Ottawa Indians - is surrounded by nine arching column formations, representing the nine original chiefs of the Ottawa Indians. In addition, significant native plants including ferns (Ottowans used to cook the fern's rhizomes, then peeled and ate them or pounded the starchy fiber into flour) and birch trees (Ottowans used the birch bark for the construction of canoes, tents and huts) are planted throughout.

The resort's interior renovations also feature unique cultural amenities that are indigenous to Michigan and inspired by its native origins. Little River Ottawa tribe members descend from villages located on the Manistee River and Pere Marquette River in the upper Michigan peninsula, so an indoor courtyard/garden space was implemented that features waterfalls with rock work that mimic specific waterfalls from those rivers.

A new 14,000-square-foot, 1,675-seat event center was also constructed, where A-List performers are already scheduled to perform. Located just outside the event center's breakout area is a curved waterwall with a rockscape, which helps prevent event center noise from spilling out of the venue, yet still gives spectators the illusion of being outside. Natural stone was used for the walls, and is detailed such that it appears handcrafted and hand-laid, connecting architectural elements with artisan styles - giving the entire space a craftsman-style feel.

Another unique attribute of the casino resort is the lobby and central gathering space, which resembles a turtle, which is a sacred animal in Ottawa's legend of the creation. TBG researched the exact number of markings for the turtle, with each resulting number and pattern detail referencing Ottawa cosmology, including the lunar cycle and specific stories of the tribes' creation.

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