Upscale outlet center at Foxwoods seen as boon for region

Plans for an upscale outlet center at Foxwoods Resort Casino, with its promise of hundreds of temporary construction jobs and many more permanent full- and part-time jobs, constitutes welcome news for southeastern Connecticut, economists said Monday.

“I think it’s a good fit for the area,” Peter Gioia, vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said. “There’s an attractiveness to the outlet centers on Interstate 95 in the area and elsewhere. Clinton (Crossing) has done well and others in Massachusetts and Maine have done well.

“With the amount of traffic in the area and the casino itself, I would think they would attract a serious number of consumers,” he said.

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, which owns the Tanger Outlet Center on I-95 in Westbrook, formally announced Monday that it has entered into a development agreement with Greenwich-based Gordon Group Holdings to develop a 312,000-square-foot outlet center at Foxwoods.

“Tanger, along with the Gordon Group, will build, manage and own the facility,” the Greensboro, N.C.-based company said in a press release. “… It is anticipated that this high quality outlet shopping center will generate over 400 construction positions during the construction phase, and approximately 900 full-time and part-time jobs in the area when completed.”

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, first revealed plans for the development in February while marking Foxwoods’ 20th anniversary.

“In the current environment, with people so reluctant to engage in the impulse spending casinos rely on, I think it’s smart for Foxwoods to diversify in this way,” Steven Lanza, executive editor of The Connecticut Economy, said. “They want to become a destination for other reasons.”

The job numbers outlined in Tanger’s press release “are not insignificant,” Lanza said. “New London has really been struggling to add any jobs.”

According to the latest state Department of Labor report, the Norwich-New London area added 1,300 jobs in May, reversing a downward trend.

“I think it’s certainly a boost,” Lanza said of the outlet center’s potential effect on employment in the region. “They’re service jobs, but in this case they’re a little different because they’re going to attract some outside dollars. When people are driving through on vacation they’re going to stop, so I wouldn’t anticipate that the clientele would be strictly limited to Connecticut residents.

“It’s certainly a good, right step for Foxwoods to shore up its position, which has been flagging a bit of late.”

Foxwoods informed a labor union last week that it intends to eliminate more than 70 positions in its engineering department, according to employees. The casino said it is “evaluating” its staffing levels.

Tanger, in its announcement Monday, provided few new details of the outlet center project and did not identify prospective tenants. A spokesman for the company did not respond to inquiries.

The outlet center will connect MGM Grand at Foxwoods and the Grand Pequot Hotel and will be visible from the two main entrances into Foxwoods Resort Casino, the company said. It will be accessible from the MGM Grand and Grand Pequot casino floors.

Previously, Sheldon Gordon, chairman of Gordon Group Holdings, said groundbreaking was to take place this spring.

“The opportunity to develop a new outlet center at the largest casino in the United States with Sheldon Gordon and his team was one not to be missed,” Steven Tanger, president and CEO of Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, said in the company’s release. “Given (Foxwoods’) approximately 16 million resort visitors per year, it is no wonder tenant interest has been strong.

“Tanger’s top retail partners are looking for growth in dynamic environments and it is our intent to provide them with great outlet shopping center sites, such as Foxwoods, to meet their needs.”

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