ONAMIA, Minn. – The newly redeveloped Eddy’s Resort on Lake Mille Lacs is marketing the past in order to move into the future.
With plaid, faux weathered walls and midcentury modern furnishings, the 64-room hotel and restaurant opened this week for the first time since the $10 million yearlong project kicked off last summer.
It’s the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s first ground-up hospitality project since opening Grand Casino Hinckley in 1992 and its latest effort to diversify revenue beyond gambling.
“When our corporate ventures do good, we all do good. It means we can provide the services to our people,” said Melanie Benjamin, the band’s chief executive.
Eddy’s, a Mille Lacs fixture since the 1960s, is recognized for its bright, red-trimmed launch boats ferrying eager anglers among all the fishing hot spots.
Eddy Silker, who built the resort, was a pioneer on the lake. He loved fishing and founded the resort based on that passion. Each summer he would take visitors out to catch their prize, and each winter he built up and repaired his fleet. Silker long ago left the business but was on-site for the grand reopening this week.
“It was a wonderful life,” said Silker, who turned 75 this week. “I didn’t even know I was working.”
He said that he’s pleased with the new resort.
The corporate arm of the band — Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures — bought the resort in 2002. But hospitality numbers waned as tourists’ tastes changed and regulations on fishing tightened with the decreasing walleye population.
The remodeled resort is trying to fill a niche between the traditional camper and casino-goer.
“We think people from the Twin Cities come up here to ‘rough it’ but they don’t necessarily want to stay in a rusty cabin,” said Joe Nayquonabe Jr., chairman and chief executive of Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures.
The new Eddy’s attempts to capitalize on a collective public yearning for simpler times — manifested in the nostalgia associated with going “Up North” — while maintaining contemporary amenities.
“It’s like Don Draper with an iPhone,” Nayquonabe said.
Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, which manages all of the band’s business assets, acquired two large downtown St. Paul hotels in 2013 and another last year in Oklahoma City. Ventures is investing heavily in updating those properties, but Eddy’s is closer to home and, in many ways, closer to its heart.
By redeveloping Eddy’s, the band is hitting its two core strategies: community development (job creation) and capital development (increased cash flow).
“It’s about reinvention,” Nayquonabe said. “It’s a marquee moment in helping tourism rise at the lake.”
To become competitive again, the band hit the refresh button on the entire Eddy’s concept. Partnering with two Twin Cities companies — PCL Construction as the project’s general contractor and the BKV Group as the architecture firm — MLCV was able to essentially flip the entire property around. They moved the location of the building to the lakefront and pushed the parking lot back to the road.
“We wanted to frame up the hero of this resort, which is the lake,” Nayquonabe said.
The lobby, meeting space and restaurant feature large-windowed walls facing the water. There also are four cabins for those who want to feel a bit of isolation, but with craft cocktails within walking distance.
The hotel’s restaurant, the Launch Bar & Grill, plays off the surge in popularity of rustic-chic motif pervading urban areas. And while the quality of food and beverage are geared toward the urban vacationer, it is also catering to young adults, a crowd 33-year-old Nayquonabe understands.
With live music on weekends, an “elevated take on bar food” and an emphasis on craft beer, he hopes the resort is still “approachable … not being too pretentious.”
The new facilities may be unrecognizable from the resort’s former self, but Eddy’s red launch boats will remain a dominant feature at the new marina.
On Tuesday, as crews continued to work on the waterfront landscaping, it took a large group of men nearby to put the flagship boat, which weighs 20 tons and is 72 feet long, into the lake in time for the fishing opener weekend.