The civic center is a multipurpose recreational and gathering center for the Grand Traverse community. The band developed the Strongheart Civic Center to reflect the spirit of the Grand Traverse people, its culture and its heritage.
The circular metal building is shaped like a huge turtle. A large and a small geodesic dome of aluminum tubes form the body and head of the turtle with four projecting stairwells representing the legs and the directions of the compass. The main recreation hall rises fifty feet to the dome and an oculus; an open balcony is beneath the dome. The smaller domed space accommodates a lobby. Metal sheeting and panels colored in burnt sienna trimmed with yellow ochre cover the building's exterior. The center accommodates a basketball court, running track, and sports and public meeting rooms. Portable bleachers seat 650 people.
Symbols associated with the Ottawa and Chippewa abound in the center. Douglas J. Cardinal, a Canadian architect of Blackfoot Indian descent, expressed this meaning for the tribe in his design. The turtle is a clan symbol for strength, luck, and endurance. It is apparent in the name Strongheart or Zoong'de ewin. The thirteen wooden columns that support a cornice that encircles the lobby represent the thirteen moons of the Ottawa calendar and are hand-carved with fruit and animals. On the cornice are incised names from the Durant Census Roll of 1906 for Native Americans in Peshawbestown.
Cardinal is noted for his innovative designs that fit the character of their site. Of his many civic and tribal-oriented buildings, the National Museum of the American Indian (2004) in Washington, D.C., is best known. The Grand Traverse Band served as general contractor for the Strongheart Center; Comstock Construction of Traverse City was the construction manager.
Taken with the Community Center, Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center (2009), Medicine Lodge, Governmental Center, Fire/Rescue/Police Departments, Leelanau Sands Casino, and Lodge Motel, the Strongheart Center says something about the success of casino gambling in Michigan. The historic Kateri Tekakwitha Roman Catholic Church is at 2753 W. Bay Shore Drive.