Mohegans push back Inspire groundbreaking, host South Korean officials

A rendering of the Inspire Integrated Resort, which a partnership led by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment plans to build on Yeongjong Island in Incheon, South Korea. Groundbreaking is now expected in the spring. (Rendering courtesy of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment)
A rendering of the Inspire Integrated Resort, which a partnership led by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment plans to build on Yeongjong Island in Incheon, South Korea. Groundbreaking is now expected in the spring. (Rendering courtesy of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment)

Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment now expects to break ground on its South Korea resort casino development in the spring, the Mohegan Tribe’s chairman said Monday.

Kevin Brown, in a phone interview, said the official start of the $1.6 billion project has been pushed back several months because MGE and its partners need more time to secure the necessary permits. The delay, he said, has nothing to do with any uncertainty over U.S.-North Korea relations and their potential effect on South Korea.

Brown told The Day in August that groundbreaking was scheduled for mid-November. “Obviously, that’s not happening,” he said Monday. “We’re retargeting for next spring.”

In a sign that the project is still a major go, the mayor of Incheon, South Korea, site of the proposed Inspire Integrated Resort, visited Mohegan Sun over the weekend. Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, who headed a contingent of more than a dozen people who toured the Uncasville casino, signed a nonbinding “cooperation agreement” with MGE officials during the visit, Brown said.

The group, which included members of the mayor’s staff and people who work in the Inspire project’s South Korea office, flew into New York’s JFK Airport Saturday morning.

“We had him for about a day,” Brown said of Yoo. “We brought him to Mohegan and gave him the same tour we give most officials and guests of everything we offer at Mohegan Sun.”

After the agreement-signing ceremony on Sunday, the contingent departed.

Significantly, Brown said, the group included a top official of the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority, which oversees a sprawling area devoted to foreign investment in business, leisure and tourism. The South Korean government established the zone in 2003, intending to turn it into one of the top three such areas in the world by 2020.

“He’s a champion for us,” Brown said of the authority official who visited, John Kim, executive director of the authority’s Service Industry Division.

As Brown described it, the Incheon Free Economic Zone, or IFEZ, comprises three districts, Songdo, Cheongna and Yeongjong, the last of which is an island where Inspire is to be built on land owned by the Incheon International Airport Corp. Brown likened the districts to the boroughs that make up New York City. Songdo, he said, is comparable to Manhattan, featuring a central park and skyscrapers. It’s connected to Yeongjong Island, he said, by a huge bridge.

The Yeongjong Grand Bridge, more than 13 miles long, was completed in 2009.

Though he termed the agreement signed Sunday between MGE and South Korea officials “nonbinding,” Brown said it was “a significant demonstration of our continued partnership.” He said it signaled MGE’s commitment to international growth.

“That’s the path we’re on,” he said. “At the same time, they (South Koreans) want Incheon to become the hub of Northeast Asia for business and tourism. We’re a perfect marriage.”

Brown, who said he “monitors the geopolitics daily” in regard to the Korean peninsula, declined to comment on President Donald Trump’s visit last week to South Korea or on the state of relations between the United States and North Korea, which could profoundly affect South Korea. He did, however, cite news reports about the recent return of Chinese tourists to South Korea. In the spring, South Korea’s installation of an American-made missile defense system had prompted an unofficial Chinese boycott of South Korean products, including tourism packages.

The MGE-led partnership originally planned to complete the first phase of the Inspire project by 2020. It is to include four hotel towers, a 15,000-seat arena, an entertainment village, a retail component, an amusement park and numerous restaurants as well as a 20,000-square-foot casino with 250 gaming tables and 1,500 slot machines.

The partners plan to invest more than $5 billion in subsequent phases over a 20-year period.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

 

 

 

 

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