|By Karen Florin, The Day, New London, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 7, 2005 - MASHANTUCKET -- The Mashantucket Pequots have selected the Las Vegas-based Paul Steelman Design Group as the architect for their $700 million expansion of Foxwoods Resort Casino and plan to break ground next month.
The two-million-square-foot expansion will contain an 825-room hotel, 4,000-seat theater, convention and ballroom space and additional gambling, shops, nightclubs and restaurants. The project is to be built on what is known as parking Lot 9 at the north end of the property, and will look markedly different than the existing resort.
Paul Steelman Design Group has completed casino projects in a dozen countries and has been working on the Foxwoods' plans for about five years. The firm is bringing its non-traditional use of natural lighting in a casino to an East Coast gaming facility for the first time. The project will have overhead steel and glass pavilions that act as skylights and an expansive outdoor garden with a reflecting pool that will be used for ice skating in the winter.
The tribe has been mulling a resort build-out strategy since the late 1990s. They slowed the process for a few years while completing the Rainmaker Expansion inside the existing casino and escalated the planning again last year. They held a design competition at one point and selected the Paul Steelman Group from a field of about 10 designers, according to Robert DeSalvio, executive vice president of marketing at Foxwoods.
"He has done some great work," DeSalvio said of the firm's principal, Paul Steelman. The son of a well-known architect from Atlantic City, Steelman began his career with his father's firm and went on to create his own company. DeSalvio said he was particularly impressed by the firm's work at the Sands Macau, which opened last year in China. Other recent projects include the Grand Casino Hotel in Finland and Harrah's Rincon Casino Resort in San Diego.
The Mashantucket Pequots are financing the expansion using private funds, including bonds that were issued recently through Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The finished project will employ about 2,300 people, bringing the total number of Foxwoods employees to about 13,800.
Despite the rising cost of construction materials, a slowdown in the growth of the gaming market and changing travel trends, DeSalvio said the project is "solid."
"We are going ahead full steam," he said.
Planners figured some fluctuations in costs into the $700 million pricetag, DeSalvio said, and the tribe will carefully monitor the project to ensure it is completed on budget and on time for an opening in 2008. None of the potential competition in the regional gaming market would affect the project, DeSalvio said. He said the timing is right for the project's substantial convention facility, especially since it will be located between Boston and New York.
"That particular aspect of our business continues to grow at a good clip, and we think in some regard the fact that people don't like to travel will play to our advantage," he said.
Though slot machine revenues at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have not grown as dramatically in recent months as they had in previous years, DeSalvio said the market is strong.
"In the last year, the market has grown about 3.2 percent," DeSalvio said. "That is still significant growth. Maybe it's not at the pace of the early years, but when you look at what's happened with the economy, gas prices and horrible weather, it's a testament to the strength of the market."
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Day, New London, Conn.
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