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Mohegan Sun’s bigger, $1 billion plan gets good reviews in Palmer, Mass.

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: TheDay.com

Published July 01. 2013 7:00PM   Updated July 02. 2013 12:10AM
Courtesy of Mohegan Sun
Artist's rendering of Mohegan Sun's proposed casino in Palmer, Mass.
Town applauds casino officials’ revised proposal

Palmer, Mass. — Mohegan Sun executives sought to impress here Monday night, introducing a “dream team” of financiers and designers and unveiling a new look for the resort casino they hope to develop off Exit 8 of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

They seemed to largely succeed, earning positive feedback from town councilors and residents, though longstanding questions about traffic plans surfaced anew.

The session ended amid applause.

Mohegan Sun Massachusetts, its price tag now verging on $1 billion, has grown to include a 300,000-square-foot retail complex, a 70,000-square-foot “aquatic adventure park” and a second hotel in addition to the casino, hotel and other amenities originally planned.

“It’s going to be like nothing the commonwealth has ever seen, like nothing any other operator is proposing,” Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority’s chief executive officer, told the audience.

Project architect A. Eugene Kohn of Kohn Pedersen Fox described the layout, likening it to “designing a hill town in Italy or France.” He said the buildings would be nestled among wetlands and forest and that steps were taken to minimize the project’s footprint.

The aquatic park, an indoor-outdoor water park augmented by a “family-style” hotel, “hinges” the development to the site, Kohn said.

Some details of financing for the project also were revealed for the first time.

Doug Pardon, head of high yield research for Brigade Capital Management, the New York firm backing the casino portion of the project, said his firm is providing $110 million. Mohegan Sun is providing an undisclosed sum, and the remaining amount is to be financed through the debt markets, he said.

Pardon cited three reasons for Brigade’s willingness to partner on the project: Mohegan Sun’s reputation for quality; the 150-acre site’s access from the highway; and the potential of the “untapped market” Massachusetts represents.

Finard Properties of Boston, whose CEO, Todd Finard, gave a presentation, is developing the retail complex and the aquatic park.

Paul Brody, Mohegan Sun’s vice president for development, said Mohegan Sun still hopes to build a “flyover” from the Massachusetts Turnpike to the site but has also designed two other interchange options at the behest of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Mohegan Sun is prepared to proceed with whichever option the state prefers.

The Mohegan Sun project is seeking the one casino license the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will award for western Massachusetts, a prize also sought by MGM Resorts International and Hard Rock International. MGM has proposed an $800 million project for Springfield while Hard Rock’s $700 million development would be built in West Springfield.

Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum, the Mohegan tribal chairman, said he believes the Mohegan Sun proposal clearly surpasses those of its competitors.

“It’s bigger, it’s more exciting, it represents a bigger investment, creates more jobs and will attract more people from out of state,” he said. “It achieves everything the state’s (expanded gambling) legislation was supposed to achieve. If we don’t get the license for western Massachusetts, I don’t see how we could have.”

Mohegan Sun representatives have been negotiating a “host community agreement” with Palmer officials, a process both sides say should be completed this month. Once the agreement is reached, the town will conduct a binding referendum on the project, with local voters giving it the thumbs up or down.

“Today is the kick-off for the referendum campaign,” Brody said. “We don’t want to win 51 to 49. We want to win by a big margin.”

If Mohegan Sun prevails — and there’s a long way yet to go — it promises a casino opening in Palmer in the summer of 2016.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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