Monday, October 24, 2011
October 24, 2011
Mohegans to unveil long-awaited community center
By Brian Hallenbeck -->
Publication: The Day
Published 10/16/2011 12:00 AM
Updated 10/16/2011 12:13 AM
Tribe also celebrates flagship casino's 15th anniversary
The Mohegans are celebrating Mohegan Sun's 15-year anniversary this month. J.Lo and Regis are due at the party.
But it's another building on the casino-owning tribe's reservation that's got Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum fired up these days.
It's the Mohegan Government & Community Center, the long-planned, much-delayed, somewhat controversial edifice that's soon to house 160 tribal-government employees, the Connecticut Sun women's basketball team and the 1,920-member tribe's cultural and social activities.
It is, said Bozsum, the Mohegan Tribal Council chairman, "the final piece."
Bozsum, who moved his office into the still-unfinished building earlier this month, talked about the center and the tribe's flagship casino during an interview last week. He said he hears "all the time" from people who tell him Mohegan Sun looks brand new.
"We've put a lot of money back into it," he said. "It's very important to us."
He reflected, too, on "all the things we've restored - the Shantok burial grounds, Cochegan Rock, the Tantaquidgeon Museum, the Mohegan Church. These are things we can touch, things we can see."
The community center, he said, is much more.
"We always put everything ahead of the community center. It was last on the list," Bozsum said.
That changed when the tribe, which halted construction on the center in early 2009, secured $74 million in low-interest federal loans for the project in the spring of 2010. Critics of the federal government's largesse - and the tribe's pursuit and acceptance of it - cried foul.
"We were fortunate to have the opportunity to borrow the money," Bozsum said. "It's a loan. We're paying it back."
By moving ahead with the project, he said, the tribe provided jobs for lots of local construction workers and business for local suppliers.
Even with the financing, the tribe had to scale back its original plans. The top two floors of the five-story building will remain unfinished until the economy improves, Bozsum said. Some 110,000 of the structure's 165,000 square feet will be occupied, including the gym where the Sun's women's basketball team will practice when WNBA play resumes in the spring. The team has practiced at Connecticut College in New London.
The finished floors will provide space for tribal-government offices; the tribal court; fitness and aerobics rooms; arts-and-crafts classes; a library and preparation and storage of archaeological artifacts. It's a far cry from the Crow Hill Road warehouse buildings that have long housed tribal offices.
Bozsum recalled meeting with senators and representatives in the warehouse digs. "Some of them must have thought they were being 'punk'd,'" he said.
Despite the chairman's reference to the Government & Community Center as "the final piece," the tribe continues to pursue a number of other projects, including construction of another Mohegan Sun hotel that Bozsum said is essential to capturing convention business.
The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, the casino's management arm, has been seeking a partner for such a project for more than a year.
"We're still looking for a third party to build a hotel," he said. "When a convention wants to book 600 rooms and there's a big show and we've got players to accommodate, we've got to turn the convention down," he said. "We need another 300 to 400 rooms (the existing Mohegan Sun hotel has 1,200 rooms). Then Mohegan Sun would be just about done."
Then there's Massachusetts, where legislation authorizing resort casinos cleared the state Senate last week and could be signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick by the end of the year, if not the month. The Mohegans are expected to apply for a license for a commercial casino project in the western Massachusetts town of Palmer, where they optioned a site three years ago.
Again, the tribe will need a partner.
"We don't have the cash to build it; that's a fact," Bozsum said. "But I can guarantee you a lot of operators will come up with the money knowing we're going to manage it.
"If their (Massachusetts officials') goal is to keep Massachusetts people in Massachusetts, they need something like this," he said, pointing out his office window in the direction of Mohegan Sun.
The tribe's Mohegan Gaming Advisors, an entity formed within the last year to pursue casino management deals, is partnering with New York developer Louis Cappelli on a plan to develop and operate the Concord Resort, a casino, hotel and racetrack in the Catskills. Still on the table are partnership deals with Indian tribes hoping to develop casino projects in Washington state and Wisconsin.
"We're probably talking to 10 or more casino operators around the company - some are built, some aren't built yet - interested in us managing them," Bozsum said.
These are eventful days for Bozsum and the tribe. Next weekend is the big 15th anniversary celebration for Mohegan Sun. On Sunday, a ribbon-cutting for the Government & Community Center is planned at a quarterly meeting of tribal members.
And, before all that, on Wednesday, Bozsum, tribal Councilor Mark Brown and Jeffrey Hartmann, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun, plan to rappel down the side of the casino's 34-story hotel tower in a fundraising event for Connecticut Special Olympics.
It's dubbed "Over The Edge."
Those first 20 floors are going to be a little nerve-wracking," Bozsum said. "Then I'll be fine."