Mohegan Sun, facing the prospect of a planned retail mall at neighboring Foxwoods Resort Casino and new gaming options elsewhere in the Northeast, announced plans Tuesday for a $50 million retail complex with a 14-screen movie theater, a bowling alley, a barn-style artisan-food pavilion and high-end shops.
In all, the "Downtown District" development is expected to add 50 retailers and 200,000 square feet to the Mohegan Sun casino, entertainment and retail complex. Construction is to begin later this year and be completed in 2015.
The Mohegans said they are finishing an expansion that was interrupted in 2008 by the economic downturn.
"This is not like, 'Oh my God, Foxwoods is doing something, let's hurry up,'" said Mitchell Etess, CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority. "We need to eventually get back to finishing what we started."
Foxwoods, in Mashantucket, announced in February 2012 that it is in a partnership with developers who plan to spend $120 million to build an 85-store outlet mall that will sprawl over 312,000 square feet. Construction has yet to start, although the primary developer, Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, said recently that work will begin later this year.
Owners of Mohegan Sun knew before the recession that gambling resorts were sprouting up in Massachusetts, the Catskills of New York and elsewhere, Etess said.
In Massachusetts, voters agreed to allow three gaming facilities — one in the western part of the state, one in the Boston area and a third in the southeast corner.
"It's been our strategy all along to enhance the destination experience and have more of an attraction factor, to give people a reason to drive a little further," Etess said.
Foxwoods, too, said it makes sense to diversify its offerings in the hope of becoming the preferred destination as competition increases from other gambling resorts, said spokeswoman Dale Wolbrink.
Both casinos are trying to gain a toehold in Massachusetts. Mohegan is competing for the sole rights to build a casino in western Massachusetts and will unveil its plans next month to people in Palmer, Mass. Foxwoods has partnered with developers to build in Milford, Mass., in the Boston area.
At the same time, however, both casinos are bolstering their competing havens in Connecticut.
The Mohegans said the complex would mean 500 construction jobs and "a couple hundred permanent jobs," although they said they could not be sure exactly how many because each outlet would be run by private retailers.
The Downtown District will feature a retail store promenade called High Street Fashion. It also will have a "PopNShop," which is a storefront that changes monthly, offering trunk shows, product debuts and "the world's best designers," the casino said. All of the retailers are new to Mohegan Sun.
The Downtown District will be built by real-estate developers The Hampshire Cos. of Morristown, N.J., and The Bronson Cos. of Winton, Calif. Richard "Skip" Bronson, founder of The Bronson Cos., was an original co-developer of CityPlace in Hartford.
Plans call for a Taste of New England Gourmet Hall, a large, barn-like pavilion with artisan foods from all six New England states. The hall will have special events, including a farmers market and a harvest festival.
Another feature is Kings Bowl, a "retro modern" bowling and dining attraction by The Lyons Group of Boston, which has similar facilities with a mid-20th-century-modern motif in the Boston area, in Rosemont, Ill., and in Orlando, Fla. The bowling and dining facility will be more than 20,000 square feet.
The development also will have a Marquee Cinemas 14-screen theater, called the Mohegan multiplex, including an IMAX-type theater. Marquee operates movie theaters in eight states, including the Westbrook 12 cinema.
"From farm-to-table to films, designer fashions to date night, the Downtown District will be an amenity to the resort and a daily destination for locals and visitors alike," Mark Rivers, president of The Bronson Cos., said in a prepared statement.