Ribbon-cutting ceremony opens the doors for new casino addition

By Ken Luchterhand

The bright, shiny and new casino addition at Ho-Chunk Gaming – Black River Falls was unveiled during a Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Tuesday, July 25.

The new addition took 10 months to complete, starting with a groundbreaking ceremony on September 26, 2016. The actually planning for the expansion was about 15 years in the making.

At the ceremony, HCG-BRF Executive Manager Greg Garvin took the microphone to speak to the crowd before the ribbon was cut and the entryway opened to the public.

“The turnout for the opening was great and many of our regulars couldn’t wait to come in and play,” Garvin said.

Once the ribbon-cutting ceremony was concluded, many people poured through the opening and looked around the new surroundings.
“The comments that we have been getting have been overwhelmingly positive,” Garvin said. “Customers have raved about the spacious and open feel that the addition brings.  Customers really like the bar and have been congregating there but for the most part, the players want to take part in the games.”

Public Relations Manager Tris Harris was excited to experience the opening.

“It was a bit surreal to see it finally opened. So many of us who have been waiting over 15 years didn’t think we’d ever see this day and it was wonderful,” Harris said.

“Everyone I talked to loved how spacious it is and how upscale it looks, it really is night and day walking from the old casino into the new addition, I really can’t wait for the renovation of the old casino to be completed with the new buffet.  The new bar is absolutely stunning and I am definitely looking forward to February when we start having our talented bands perform again on Saturday nights.”

One of the main aspects of the new addition is that it is a no-smoking facility, something enjoyed by nonsmokers and smokers alike.

“We have signs up on the floor letting customers know that this is a no smoking area,” Garvin said. “There are also placards on the machines.  If customers are unsure, they generally ask one of the employees where they can smoke. Even our smoking customers have commented to me that they appreciate being able to play in the smoke free section since it so clean and fresh.”

When the construction was taking place, the small details of finishing the interior took just as long as the major structure.

“It worked out great,” said Harry Corken, project manager of Hill International, the construction management firm. “It was hard work. It was not easy, yet we met all people’s expectations.
In fact, we gave the people more than they expected. There were supposed to be 175 slots working, but we had 562 slots working.”

Although the ribbon cutting ceremony opened a new casino addition to the public, there is much more to be done.

“There is still a lot of construction going on, so it would be pretty amazing to come here in February when everything is completed with fresh eyes, but for those of us who are here daily, it’s getting pretty hard to remember what it used to look like,” Harris said. “I had to explain to one of our faithful guests that they were standing inside the new addition where the Happy Together Tour concert was held outside, he got a kick out of that,” Harris said.

“Being able to see the entire outside of the new hotel built, you would think that the inside should be complete, but there is a lot to be done in it and we cannot wait for our hotel Grand Opening in February,” Harris said. 

At the ceremony, Corken was pleased to hear the reaction from the public.

“The comments from the people were all positive,” Corken said. “I heard people say the casino was the best in Wisconsin. The staff like it because it is smoke free.”

The next phase of the project will commence on August 21. The buffet will then be closed for renovations and will reopen on October 27, Corken said. On Aug. 21, another wall will be created to begin the remodeling of an existing section of the casino. The hotel lobby will be opened and ready on December 15.

A “porte cochere,” a French name for a new drive-up covering at an entrance, has been added to the project, which will push the end date back to sometime in May. All the buildings are planned to be painted the same color so the entire complex looks matching to the new facility.

A soft opening for the hotel and casino is tentatively estimated to be in the first of second week in February, Corken said.

A memorial garden between the new hotel and the porte cochere, where there will be flag poles and a memorial area of the servicemen. The flags will be the Ho-Chunk flag, the United States flag, the Wisconsin flag, the MIA (missing in action) flag, and the French flag, who was an ally to the Ho-Chunk people during wartime.

“There’s still a lot of things to do because of the design changes, but it will not affect the date of the hotel opening,” Corken said.

A proposal may cause more changes. There has been some discussion of a new larger swimming pool and spa for the hotel, with the details for funding of those items is yet to be worked out.
“We have met the dates so far. We’ve over-accomplished,” he said. “The project turned out well. We have worked well as a team.”

In the end, all the strides in improvement are to please the casino and hotel patrons.

“I just want to thank the Legislature and the past two administrations for their support and, of course, our customers,” Garvin said. “They made this all possible and we look forward to opening the new hotel to offer our guests an even greater experience here at Ho-Chunk Gaming - Black River Falls.”