November 15, 2013 12:41PM
By LESLIE ROVETTI
Sun Staff Writer
MASHANTUCKET — New food venues, new retail outlets and renovated hotel rooms are part of the ongoing multi-million dollar renovation and new construction at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
“This is actually a really exciting time at Foxwoods,” said Christopher O’Connell, the casino’s vice president of development and resort services.
Renovations of 785 rooms in the Grand Pequot Tower, the resort’s flagship hotel, began in April and are expected to be completed in May, O’Connell said. Calling it “a true renovation of a 16-year-old property,” O’Connell said the $23 million renovation consists of new carpeting, wall coverings, furniture, fixtures and linens.
A small block of about 20 to 23 rooms is worked on each week. They’re stripped Sunday after check-out, and put back together in time for weekend guests.
The older rooms have large armoires and oversized furniture, and O’Connell described it as a “1990 feel.” In the renovated rooms, the armoires are replaced with smaller dressers because the average stay is less than two days. Bathrooms have more of a “residential feel,” he said, and there’s more space throughout.
In December, work will begin on the 18th floor, which will have a distinct Asian theme. It will have different colors and décor, and a feng shui expert helped design the rooms. O’Connell expected the renovation of that floor to be completed by the Chinese New Year.
Although the new rooms cost $30 more than the old rooms, customers have been requesting them, O’Connell said.
“Guest reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
Standard Builders of Newington, Conn., is doing the hotel renovations.
The concourse off of Rainmaker Square is also getting a $15 million face-lift. Construction has already begun on a food court with four new fast-food venues. The adjacent shops will be rearranged and consolidated, and two new stores will be added. Cedars Steak House, one of the casino’s most popular restaurants, will also undergo a renovation and expansion.
When they were built in 1993, the shops in the concourse had the look and feel of a small-town New England Main Street. For the renovation, the New York design firm of STUDIO V Architecture looked to the tribe’s wooded reservation for inspiration, according to Jens Baake, vice president of food and beverage.
“The design really has to be linked to nature,” he explained.
The result is a contemporary look based on curved lines, cedar, rocks and crystals. There are also a lot of windows — unique for a casino, Baake said — to provide natural light and a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and woods. A row of kiosks in the concourse that had blocked the windows are gone, and the view will be reflected in the new glass fronts of the retail spaces across the concourse.
“No one expects to see green, or forest,” Baake said.
One of the new venues will be a Starbucks, which is new to Foxwoods. They’ve found that guests are either fans of Dunkin’ Donuts, which is already there, or Starbucks — but not both.
“There’s a very clear separation,” he said.
For the food court, the goal was to bring in fast, casual dining for people who want to grab a bite without taking the time for a sit-down meal, Baake said. But he didn’t want just any food. He searched for the best pizza in Connecticut and surrounding states on the Internet, he said, and then he and an executive chef traveled to about 20 pizza places for taste tasting. The winner was Regina’s Pizza in Boston.
“We felt that Regina’s Pizza by far had the best pizza,” he said, and credited the secret process Regina’s uses to make the dough.
The other new dining spots are Pequot Bay Seafood, which Baake described as a typical New England seafood shack, and Fox Deli, which will serve sandwiches ranging from lightly seared tuna to a classic pastrami reuben.
All of the food venues in the concourse will have cedar lattice around the exterior, either on the walls or separating open spaces from the rest of the concourse. Plans for the food court include a Christmastime opening.
Revamping the retail options was a challenge, said Annette DeBois, vice president for retail development and operations, because she wanted to make the shopping experience new and exciting without alienating the customers who like it the way it is. New shops include Folli Folli, which sells women’s accessories, and Activa Kicks, which sells the item most requested by guests: sneakers. A candy store across from the food court will be a sweet shop, DeBois said, with unique gourmet cupcakes and cronuts, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, in addition to the candy.
“It will be a fun, bright, happy store,” DeBois said.
Basically, the concourse will have much of the same merchandise, DeBois said, but with a fresher format. She anticipates that it will all be in place by Memorial Day. It will not have fashion stores, because the $115 million Tanger Outlet Mall, under construction since October, will sell nationally-known clothing brands. The 312,000 square-foot mall will have approximately 85 stores and will connect MGM Grand at Foxwoods to the Grand Pequot Tower.
The concourse construction work is being performed by A/Z Corporation of North Stonington. Perry Lorenz, CEO of A/Z Corporation, said his company has a long-standing relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods. Standard Builders is in charge of the Tanger Outlet Mall construction.