By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor
FROG LAKE FIRST NATION
August 30, 2016.
An arena-hotel-casino complex announced by Frog Lake First Nation for the western boundary of Lloydminster will result in more jobs for First Nations members – and possibly a Western Hockey League franchise.
“Frog Lake is strong in oil and gas and strong in oil and gas servicing but like a lot of First Nations active in the oil industry, they realize they need to do some diversification and this is one of their strategies,” said Bruce Simms, manager for the new complex.
Chief and council for Frog Lake First Nation started discussing the complex in 2014, says Simms. In July, the official announcement was made for the Lloydminster Regional Entertainment Complex. That announcement was followed a month later with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, comprised of Saskatchewan First Nations Chiefs, approving plans for a Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority casino in Lloydminster.
Simms says they were aware that SIGA had been considering a casino for Lloydminster. That proposal also includes a hotel.
“I think there’s room for only one casino in that market,” he said.
Not only will the Lloydminster Regional Entertainment Complex offer entertainment, fine dining, premium lodging and convention capabilities in one location, it is also a partnership between communities.
“From the beginning of the project, it has been envisaged and brought forward as a partnership with other communities in the area, the city of Lloydminster and the county. It’s not to be a First Nations project just on reserve,” said Simms. “The First Nation, when they talk about it, they say in the spirit of treaties was to partner with the white man and everybody else and that’s the way the project is being brought forward.”
While development plans still need to be developed and permits obtained, Simms is hopeful that the ground can be broken in 2017 for the complex. The estimated cost of construction is $100 million.
Frog Lake First Nation has purchased 140 acres of land along Highway 16 immediately adjacent to the western boundaries of the City of Lloydminster. Presently, the First Nation is working with the federal government for 30 acres of that site through the additions-to-reserve process. It is that 30 acres that will hold the entire entertainment complex. The remainder of the newly acquired land will allow the First Nation to embark on future phases of development, including retail, restaurants, and residential on a fee-simple basis. While the 140 acres is presently in the County of Vermilion River, Simms says the City of Lloydminster, which will be supplying the water, sewer and power services to the complex, is expected to annex that land in the near future.
Simms says other First Nations have approached Frog Lake about becoming investment partners.
“So far it’s been amazing the amount of interest that has been show and for doing financing for the project. The people are excited about the concept and so are we,” said Simms.
Along with a casino that has VLTs and table games, the complex will include a four-star full-service hotel, with an attached 1,200-person convention centre. Simms says no decision has been made yet as to whether to follow the River Cree Resort plan, which includes a Marriott Hotel, or Grey Eagle Casino and Resort, which runs its own hotel.
Arguably the centre-piece of the complex will be the Western Hockey League-sized arena, which will hold seating for 6,500. The lower bowl will be detachable to allow for conventions and concerts.
Simms says the plan is to acquire a WHL franchise, although the group is “two to three years away at the earliest from doing anything like that.”
Frog Lake First Nation officials met with the WHL commissioner in Calgary in July, says Simms, and the commissioner didn’t foresee any difficulties moving forward. Simms also stresses that the Frog Lake First Nation will be one of multiple owners of the WHL team.
Simms doesn’t anticipate that having a WHL team will impact on the Frog Lake T-Birds, a Junior B hockey team.
“We’re really hoping to see more First Nations players in the WHL. We’re thinking by having a major presence, it’ll attract more people into hockey and they’ll realize there’s a career path for them to a higher level of hockey,” he said.
Simms also says that First Nations members from the area will find employment both in the construction end of the project as well as the operational phase. He says he’s hoping that government funding can be accessed for training programs.
“This will easily be the largest public assembly facility in the Lloydminster region so that part is quite exciting,” said Simms. “It’s a unique complex that they’re finding the market is demanding more and more.”
Alberta firm Marshall Tittemore Architect’s rendering of the Lloydminster Regional Entertainment Complex. (Photo: supplied)