Time is right for Sun's Pocono Downs project

An artist's rendering of the hotel-convention center to be completed next year at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Mohegan Sun set about raising its Pennsylvania profile Wednesday, breaking ground on a $50 million hotel and convention center at its racetrack casino in Wilkes-Barre.

The Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs expansion calls for a seven-story, 238-room hotel and a 20,000-square-foot convention center that can accommodate banquets of up to 800 people and concert seating for as many as 1,500.

Mohegan Sun officials said the expansion, dubbed Project Sunlight, will provide nearly 350 construction jobs over the course of the 15 months it will take to build it. Once finished, by the end of next year, it will provide roughly 270 new positions, increasing Pocono Downs' workforce to nearly 2,000 employees.

"We are excited to announce that we are moving forward with this ambitious project, and we are even more thrilled about what this means to the local economy from a job creation and tourism perspective," said Bobby Soper, president and chief executive officer of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs.

Soper said Pocono Downs had hoped to add a hotel and convention center ever since it opened in 2006.

"The timing just had to be right," he said.

First proposed in 2009, the hotel project had been scaled down somewhat. The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority had signed a 2010 agreement with a developer who was to build and own the hotel and lease it to Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Earlier this year, the authority announced it would secure financing for the project and develop, own and operate it.

The Mohegan Tribe, which opened its Uncasville casino in 1996, acquired the former Pocono Downs horse track in 2005 and introduced Pennsylvania's first slot machines in late 2006. Pocono Downs added table games in 2010.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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