Mohegan — Revealing plans to expand for the first time in five years, Mohegan Sun announced Tuesday it will add 200,000 square feet of space devoted to retail, entertainment and dining.
The $50 million "Downtown District," to be built next to the Uncasville casino's Winter Garage, will feature a New England-themed food pavilion; a 14-screen Marquee Cinemas multiplex; an upscale bowling-and-dining facility; and a promenade of retail shops whose tenants will include Coach, Tiffany, Sephora, Tommy Bahama, Puma and others.
"Financing and tenants are in place," Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority's chief executive officer, said at a press conference.
Two development firms, the Morristown, N.J.-based Hampshire Companies and The Bronson Companies of Beverly Hills, Calif., are partnering on the project, which they will build on land they will lease from the Mohegan Tribe.
The developers will own the project, Etess said.
Ironically, Bronson also is seeking to develop a casino in West Springfield, Mass., where it's partnering on a project that's contingent on the same western Massachusetts license Mohegan Sun is pursuing for a project it's proposed in the town of Palmer.
Bronson is partnering on the West Springfield project with Orlando, Fla.-based Hard Rock International.
"We were working with them on our retail project before they got involved in West Springfield," Etess said of Bronson. "They talked to us about going there, but we were already committed to Palmer."
The outcome of the potential three-way race for the western Massachusetts casino license — MGM Resorts International has proposed a Springfield project — will have no bearing on the Mohegan Sun-Bronson collaboration in Uncasville, Etess said.
"It was always separate," he said.
Construction in Uncasville is set to begin this fall, with the new Mohegan Sun space scheduled to open in early 2015. The project will generate up to 500 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs once completed, Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, the Mohegan Tribe's chairman, said.
"This is something we've been working on for a long time," Etess said in an interview. "It's the continuation of our efforts to make this destination even more compelling than it already is. It's very entertainment-oriented, very fun."
He described the retail project's tenant mix as "not super high-end — but not outlets either."
"As with our existing Shops at Mohegan Sun, it'll be a combination of stores that hit all price points," he said. "The concept now is that people don't come to Mohegan Sun to shop — they come and shop. This (new development) will be a retail driver. Now some people will come for the stores and stay to do some gaming as well."
The project will include about 50 shops, a Mohegan Sun spokeswoman said.
Etess said the project is in keeping with Mohegan Sun's continuing bid to differentiate itself from the competition, meaning nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino and other gaming venues in the Northeast.
Foxwoods announced plans more than a year ago to add a shopping mall but has yet to schedule a groundbreaking. The 312,000-square-foot project would connect Foxwoods' Grand Pequot Hotel to MGM Grand at Foxwoods. It is to be developed, owned and managed by a partnership between Tanger Factory Outlet Centers of Greensboro, N.C., and Gordon Group Holdings of Greenwich, and would include some 80 outlet stores.
Mark Rivers, The Bronson Companies' president, likened the Mohegan Sun expansion to The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, at least conceptually.
"There's a precedent for third-party investment" in a resort casino, he said, adding that certain aspects of the Mohegan Sun addition — the upscale bowling and theater amenities — will fill a void in the region.
"It's not redundant to anything in the market," he said.
Bronson presented Bozsum, the Mohegan chairman, with a vintage milk bottle at Tuesday's press conference.
Founded by Richard D. "Skip" Bronson, The Bronson Companies co-developed Hartford's CityPlace and has been involved in numerous other projects in New England. The Hampshire Companies, a real estate firm and investment fund manager, has a portfolio that includes more than 250 properties in 28 states. It acquired One Corporate Center, the Hartford skyscraper commonly known as the "stilts building," in 2006.