Mohegan Sun looks ahead to June opening of Expo Center

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Mohegan — Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons is excited for the Connecticut Marine Trades Association to host its annual boat show in the Mohegan Sun Expo Center. As "a huge car buff," Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, is glad to see the Barrett-Jackson car auction return to Mohegan Sun.

"I'm thrilled to see our part of the state benefiting from this kind of development," she said of the new Expo Center.

Simmons and Cheeseman were two of many elected officials who gathered Wednesday morning for a tour of the Expo Center, which is expected to open in late June.

The 237,000-square-foot Expo Center — located between the Earth Tower and Winter Garage — has 145,000 square feet of contiguous, column-free space. Adjoining 125,000 square feet of open exhibition space is a new 20,000-square-foot ballroom.

John Washko, vice president of exhibition and convention sales, said it costs more to build column-free but allows for more flexibility.

"The key is versatility," he said. "This room can be configured to be utilized for a variety of events."

This will be the third year at Mohegan Sun for Barrett-Jackson, which is in the middle of a five-year contract with the casino. Its last two events were held in the Mohegan Sun Arena, with tents covering the Winter Parking Lot.

Washko said Mohegan Sun has 15 confirmed programs for the Expo Center. Aside from the boat show and Barrett-Jackson event, those include training for an automotive company, food shows and a dental conference.

The casino is trying to draw clients who previously have held their conferences in Hartford, Providence, Boston, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C.

Mohegan Sun is trying to draw exhibitors by touting its free parking and lower room rates, Washko said. He also is banking on people wanting to visit new places.

"We're really positing that we're located in Mystic Country," Washko said, "because Mystic is that magical place that people have heard of but have never been to."

Ray Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun, said casino management and consultants believe there is enough parking to accommodate not only an arena show on a weekend night but also a trade show during the day. Convention groups will come during the week.

The architect for the Expo Center was KPF, and the general contractor is the North Stonington-based construction company A/Z Corp.

Remaining work, Pineault said, includes painting, taping, pulling out wires, finishing wall coverings, carpentry, millwork and electronic signage.

Construction began last March, and a topping-off ceremony was held in September.

e.moser@theday.com

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