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Future of Muskegon County casino project unclear one month from final deadline

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Posted at 9:28 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 22:37:21-04

FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Monday marks the one month deadline for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to decide whether to approve the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ proposed Muskegon County casino. 

Without the governor’s signature, the project dies. 

“It’s been a long, hard road, but I think I feel comfortable right now because I know that we’ve dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's,” said Little River Ogema Larry Romanelli.

In an interview with FOX17, Romanelli said his team has continued to communicate with Whitmer’s administration since a one-time, six-month extension was granted in December.

At the time, Romanelli said the governor requested the extension, rather than approving or rejecting the project proposal, because of ongoing, statewide issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and opposition from other tribes and casino operators.

In the months since, he says Little River has tried to address any issues and remains confident that a casino will eventually be built.

“They [Whitmer’s administration] wanted to make sure that they had all the information,” said Romanelli. “They’ve been very thorough in that to make sure they have every question answered. Obviously there are things that come up that people pose a question or concern. Those have all been answered from our team.”

In an email to FOX17, a spokesman for Whitmer says her administration is “continuing to review the proposal.”

According to Little River, the project costs would total $180 million. A 220 room hotel would also be built on the 60 acre site off of Ellis Road in Fruitport Township.

Little River estimates the casino would attract two million visitors each year and add tens of millions of dollars with thousands of jobs to the area's economy. A portion of the profits would be used to expand critical services, such as healthcare and housing support, to the tribe's members in Muskegon, about 42 percent.

Construction could start within a few weeks if the project is signed off on. It would take about two years to complete.

If the project isn’t approved, Romanelli said the tribe would look into redeveloping it for its own use.

“We have no more extensions, this is it, so obviously I’d be asking for a yes and if she waits until the last day, I’d be okay with that too,” said Romanelli.

A final decision must be made by June 16, 2022.