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Foxwoods sets stage for expansion

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Editor's note: This version removes a inaccurate description of the mall's location, which appeared in a Foxwoods brochure. The mall will extend from the area of Club Newport in the Grand Pequot Tower to the area of Craftsteak restaurant in MGM Grand, Dale Wolbrink, Foxwoods' manager of public relations, said.

Mashantucket - Foxwoods turned 20 Wednesday with a nod to its past and a glimpse of its immediate future, which Mashantucket Pequot and casino officials confirmed will include construction of a shopping mall linking MGM Grand at Foxwoods with the Grand Pequot Hotel at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Also on display was the casino-owning tribe's more-cordial-than-ever relationship with state government.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, introduced by Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, extolled Foxwoods' contributions to the region and state, addressing an audience of hundreds of Foxwoods employees and state and local officials gathered in the casino's Fox Theater.

Four other state officers - Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Attorney General George Jepsen - joined Malloy on stage.

"This is a momentous occasion," the governor declared.

Malloy said it was clear to him when he took office in 2011 that the relationship between the tribe and the state had to change. Too often, he said, the tribe hadn't been treated as an equal partner.

"We're in this together," he said.

He cited the $3.3 billion Foxwoods has pumped into the state's coffers since 1993, when the casino's slot machines started whirring. Foxwoods provides some 11,000 jobs, he said, and along with Mohegan Sun, southeastern Connecticut's other tribally owned casino, constitutes the biggest draw for out-of-state visitors.

Now the tribes "face competition that didn't exist 20 years ago," Malloy said, making it more important than ever that the state cooperate with them.

"I pledge to ensure that they are treated with the trust and respect they so richly deserve," he said.

Scott Butera, who came on board as Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer a little more than a year ago, told the audience that the economic pressures facing Foxwoods have required creative responses.

"We have to think differently," he said. "But this group's faced challenges before and it has always won. Winners win, regardless of the circumstances."

Foxwoods' top management has been overhauled since Butera's arrival and the casino has spent 8,000 hours training employees, Butera said. It has also replaced 1,000 of its slot machines with newer models.

But clearly the biggest innovation at Foxwoods since MGM Grand's opening in May 2008 is the 320,000-square-foot, 85-store outlet mall that Greenwich-based developer Sheldon Gordon plans to build on land he will lease from the tribe.

Details of the project remained scarce Wednesday.

According to a Foxwoods brochure distributed to those entering the Fox Theater, "The Premier Outlet Shoppes at Foxwoods will be the ultimate shopping destination in the United States, providing an outstanding variety of brand luxury retailers at outlet prices."

The mall will be the first "convertible" outlet center in the country, the brochure said, with a retractable roof "to allow for seasonal outdoor shopping."

The square footage suggests a development similar in size to Waterford Commons.

Gordon, chairman of Gordon Group Holdings, said weeks ago that he was in the process of securing financing for the project.

Asked whether that financing was now in place, Butera said he would not discuss the project's "capital structure." He described Gordon, who was in the audience at Wednesday's event, as "a very strong partner" and said he was comfortable that financing for the project "was achievable."

Neither Butera nor Butler, the tribal chairman, would identify any stores that have committed to locating in the mall.

"They're very well-known stores. You'll recognize the names," Butler told reporters. "We've been negotiating with a lot of them. I just can't say who they are right now."

Butler said the tribe also plans a development that will include a gas station, a convenience store and a restaurant.

In connection with its 20-year anniversary, Foxwoods introduced a new branding campaign with the tag line "Anything But Ordinary." The campaign, spearheaded by Rebecca Carr, the casino's new chief marketing officer, features five "personalities" inspired by Foxwoods' patron base - the Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Joker.

Also unveiled was a new Foxwoods Rewards Program governing the way patrons can exchange earned points for merchandise discounts, hotel accommodations, golf fees, tickets to shows and cash.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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