Mohegan Sun 'turns corner' with Expo Center's opening

Mohegan — Half of it is big enough to accommodate four football fields — 125,000 square feet of unfettered, column-free convention space.

The other half features a 20,000-square-foot ballroom that can be divided into two; 15 meeting rooms; an executive boardroom and outdoor space with a terrace.

You could tool around inside the place.

It’s Mohegan Sun’s $80 million Earth Expo & Convention Center, which opened Wednesday, drawing hundreds of casino employees and dignitaries invited to a ribbon-cutting that marked the property’s second major expansion in less than two years.

The 400-room Earth Tower hotel opened in November 2016.

Riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, provided an escort as Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman traveled the length of the center’s convention space, arriving near a stage erected for the ceremony. Wyman rode in a shiny, clay-colored 1937 Cord 812 Supercharged "Sportsman" convertible coupe driven by its collector-car owner, John Lyons of West Hartford. Ray Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun, also was a passenger.

Once on stage, Brown told the audience that Mohegan Sun “has turned a corner” in its pursuit of the lion's share of the Northeast’s trade-show business.

All 7,100 Mohegan Sun employees were invited to Wednesday’s unveiling, with meals to be served throughout the day for each of the three shifts.

“We’ll serve lunch, dinner ... and breakfast,” Brown said.

The chairman cast the Expo Center as the latest sign of the tribe’s commitment to the state, which, in exchange for granting the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots the exclusive right to operate casino gaming in the state, gets a cut of the tribal casinos’ slot-machine revenues.

“The Mohegan Tribe has been here for 400 years and it will be here forever,” said Brown, who’s currently helping negotiate the casinos’ bid to provide sports betting and perhaps online gaming, if the state sanctions them.

“You have put us on the map,” Wyman said. “We will not forget all the help you’ve given us over the years.”

Wednesday’s automotive theme seemed to be a nod to the Expo Center’s first event, Barrett-Jackson’s 3rd annual Northeast Auction of collector cars, June 20-23. Mohegan Sun hosted the first two Northeast auctions in Mohegan Sun Arena, a venue more readily associated with big-name entertainers and basketball.

After Barrett-Jackson set arena attendance records over three days in June 2016, the tribe began planning the Expo Center, envisioning a day when both the arena and the center might be booked at the same time.

In addition to Barrett-Jackson, some 20 events already have been scheduled for the center through 2019. Long-term partnerships have been established with the National Association of Postal Supervisors, whose 2018 National Convention is set for Aug. 6-10; United Natural Foods Inc., which will hold its North Atlantic Showcase Oct. 2-4; and the Connecticut Marine Trades Association’s 50th Hartford Boat Show, set for Jan. 17-20, 2019.

A fixture at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford the past 12 years and at other Hartford locations before that, the boat show is being renamed the Hartford Boat Show at Mohegan Sun.

Other Expo Center bookings include Terrificon, a comic book convention, Aug. 17-19, and Slime Bash 2, Oct. 27-28.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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