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Build it and they will come: Casino could lead to housing boom in Otter Tail County

Artist rendering of the new Star Lake Casino, which is set to be built near Dent.

The new White Earth-owned Star Lake Casino near Dent could be the catalyst for developing the Star Lake, Dead Lake and Mud Lake area in Otter Tail County.

The tribe is moving forward on plans to build a 30,000-square-foot casino with 180 hotel rooms, convention space, a 15-stall RV park, three restaurants and other amenities on trust land on Star Lake, which sits between Dent and Maplewood State Park.

The casino would sit on 15 acres of trust land and another 225 acres of "fee land" that has been purchased by the tribe.

If the casino is built, it will likely bring more development to the area, as many as 500 new housing units over the next 25 years—a 42 percent increase over the existing housing stock, according to a limited comprehensive plan put out by Otter Tail County and the White Earth Nation.

Not counting sites that cannot be developed or are difficult to develop, such as state-owned land, large wetlands, and areas where a highway runs next to lakeshore, that leaves approximately 14 miles of developable shoreline: Four miles around Star Lake, eight miles around Dead Lake, and two miles around Mud Lake, according to the plan.

Dead Lake is classified as a Natural Environment lake and Star Lake is classified for General Development. Mud Lake, located in the southwest corner of Star Lake Township, is also a Natural Environment lake.

"Development around Star Lake is preferable due to the location of the casino on this lake, more lenient shoreline standards, and historical trends indicating higher growth in this township than in Dead Lake Township," the plan states.

The proposed resort and casino at Star Lake is about 30 percent smaller than the casino in Mahnomen, and is different in other ways. The casino in Mahnomen has a concert venue, with live concerts. The casino at Star Lake will not have offer concerts and will have more of a northwoods lodge environment, and an atmosphere that caters to families and lake enthusiasts.

The facility will be limited to smaller events, such as wedding receptions or other gatherings that are suitable for a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot ballroom.

The Star Lake Casino expects to draw 30 percent of its customers from Fargo-Moorhead, 25 percent from Alexandria, 15 percent from Detroit Lakes, 15 percent from the Perham-Wadena area and 15 percent from Fergus Falls.

The laid-back atmosphere at Star Lake will likely mean fewer calls for law enforcement help than at the Mahnomen casino. Approximately 200 to 275 emergency service calls are expected annually at Star Lake for matters ranging from medical emergencies to law enforcement issues.

"According to Shooting Star management, medical emergencies are one of the biggest generators of emergency service calls at the Mahnomen facility, partly due to the fact that the facility attracts senior citizens," the report says.

As with the Mahnomen facility, Shooting Star management intends to provide highly trained security staff on-site at all times at Star Lake. Over half of the security personnel are also trained as first responders. Training is provided several times per year for the security personnel. "Shooting Star management also allows and encourages their staff to join local volunteer fire departments and emergency response teams to ensure that adequate staffing is provided for those groups to function well," the plan states. "This policy can help reduce shortages of volunteers for first responders within the community. Shooting Star management offers a financial incentive for their security staff to be trained as first responders. The management also intends to have a trained canine officer on staff."

The tribe recently completed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, and the county hired Houston Engineering of Maple Grove to review it, suggest improvements, and make sure all aspects of the worksheet are satisfactorily answered, according to Nick Leonard, director of Tourism and Economic Development for Otter Tail County. "An EAW is a very complicated process," he said. "The tribe has hired all sorts of experts," to complete it.

The resort and casino will be built on trust land, and some of the surrounding fee land will be used for parking lots, utility operations, transportation access, and other infrastructure included in Phase 1 of the development.

And future growth is expected. "Future phases are ... expected to include an increase of approximately 20 to 30 percent of Phase 1 development," according to the plan.

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