Working on a tight deadline, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Construction Department and several general contractors broke ground earlier this year on new additions to the FireLake complex. They plan to complete them by the end of next year using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was distributed by the federal government during the coronavirus pandemic to help spur economic development. CPN received more than $200 million. According to the ARPA, all funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.
“I think some of this stuff could get done one project at a time. But I think with these funds, it has enabled the Nation to do it all at one time,” said Construction Department Director Jackie Gamble.
Currently, CPN continues to work with Guernsey, an architectural firm out of Oklahoma City, to finalize plans for a new casino near FireLake Discount Foods and a new 126-room hotel beside it. They will be located on the north side of Hardesty Rd. between Rangeline Rd. and S. Gordon Cooper Dr. The Nation has also spent time between softball seasons updating and adding to FireLake Ball Fields.
“I’ve worked for the Tribe for a long time, and I’ve been in the construction department since ‘06,” Gamble said. “And Chairman (John ‘Rocky’ Barrett)’s goal was always to make this a destination area.”
FireLake Ball Fields
FireLake Ball Fields has already seen significant expansion and improvements this year. The construction department has been working with specialists to transition all fields from dirt to artificial turf. Right now, one quad and two additional fields comprise
FireLake Ball Fields for a total of six fields. To make FireLake a regional softball destination, an additional quad will be added as well as a championship field.
“The bleachers will be elevated. So, everything’s going to be above ground, and it is estimated to seat around 1,500 people. Press box. The whole nine yards. We’ll have the capability for live televised games and stuff like that,” Gamble said.
With the rise of softball’s popularity, FireLake Ball Fields has become one of the Tribe’s most utilized and popular enterprises. The new fields and improvements aim to expand on that, with the ultimate goal to become a World Series destination for NCAA Division II and lower teams. Gamble’s excitement for this particular project comes from his family’s history with the sport.
“I coached my daughter. She played college ball. We traveled all over the country. This will be the nicest facility that I’ve seen, personally,” he said.
FireLake Entertainment Center
CPN purchased the building that holds FireLake Entertainment Center in the 1980s. First a bowling alley, it was retrofitted to become a bingo hall and eventually a casino and gaming destination. The Tribe solidified plans for a new FireLake Entertainment Center this spring, covering 49,000 square feet and holding more than 600 slot machines. Plans include a small kitchen and a bar.
“Over the years, it’s been added on to, it’s been repaired here and there. But the facility’s outlived its life. It’s time for a new facility,” Gamble said. “You’ll still have that smaller feel, but it’ll be updated and very nice. Some of the interior renderings are really sharp.”
By Family Reunion Festival at the end of June, the construction department plans to have the footings poured so construction above ground can begin. A call for bids for general contractors for the hotel and casino went out in mid-May.
“My phone has actually been ringing off the hook when people find out what’s going on,” Gamble said.
With the development of the FireLake complex throughout the last 20 years, more people are traveling farther to attend festivals, concerts and sporting events in the area. The Tribe began building a hotel next to all the action this spring.
“There’s no reason why a family can’t come in here and spend the whole weekend right here and never have to leave this little one-mile square area,” Gamble said.
The FireLake Hotel will be located just west of the new FireLake Entertainment Center, offering 126 rooms on three stories over 80,000 square feet. Gamble and his crew hope to be working on the hotel’s concrete pad by the end of June.
“I think with what we’re doing currently with our ball fields and with the expansion of that, I don’t see them having any problems keeping that hotel full on weekends,” he said.
CPN also plans to add 1,600 parking spots in the surrounding area.
Gamble takes pride in the project not only as an employee, but also as a Tribal member and Willmette family descendant.
“I keep the Tribal part and my work separate because they hired me as an employee, not as a Tribal member. But as a Tribal member on this side of it, it’s really exciting … for me to have a part in the growth of the Nation,” he said.