A few weeks after construction began on a $115 million outlet mall, Foxwoods Resort Casino Thursday showcased two other improvement projects that haven’t shared in the limelight: renovations at the Grand Pequot hotel and its shopping concourse.
Foxwoods is halfway through a $23 million makeover of 785 hotel rooms and suites and a $13 million renovation of the concourse, both expected to be completed next year. The renovations are intended to introduce more colors, textures and materials drawn from nature to better represent the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s heritage.
One major change: the quaint, New England village storefronts in the concourse — dating back two decades — are being replaced with wood-and-glass windows that project out into the walkway. The wood pays homage to the forested land around Foxwoods but the storefront design also is intended to better display what is for sale.
“These are some of the oldest parts of the building that we haven’t touched,” said Christopher O’Connell, vice president of development and resort services, who led a tour with other Foxwoods executives of the improvements for the media. “It says a lot about the tribe’s commitment to maintaining Foxwoods as a premiere destination.”
See a video of O’Connell discussing the renovations:
The mall — now well into construction — and the hotel and concourse renovations come as Foxwoods faces the prospect of intensifying competition from planned casinos in Massachusetts and upstate New York.
Last August, Foxwoods successfully refinanced its debt, saving $520 million through extended repayment deadlines and lower interest rates. The savings is helping Foxwoods finance the renovations.
Thursday, O’Connell was eager to make the comparison between the existing hotel rooms and the ones that have been renovated. On the 12th floor, a room awaiting a makeover has a big armoir with a television in the center. In the hallway, there is a patterned wallpaper with a contrasting border along the ceiling.
“Notice the poor lighting in the bathroom,” O’Connell said.
About 50 percent of the rooms have been renovated, with work completed around guest stays. One floor will have an Asian theme with a predominantly red and gold decor to cater to that guest segment. There won’t be any number fours — considered unlucky — in room numbers or anywhere else.
“We’ve gotten the stamp of approval from the feng shui master,” said Jens Baake, vice president of food and beverage.
On the 19th floor, O’Connell knocks on the door of a renovated room. The colors are softer with tans and pale greens, accented with chrome lamps and other fixtures. There are no armoirs here. A built-in closet is tucked in one corner.
He stops in the center of the room and points to a round coffee table. Over 60 surface materials were considered, each tested to see how well they held up to staining from mustard, ketchup, relish, cofee, wine and markers,” O’Connell said.
“And lipstick,” Baake said.
“Housekeeping wasn’t too happy with me,” O’Connell said, noting that a white, crystalized glass was finally selected.
The renovations are pushing up the cost of a room by about $30 a night. A typical, deluxe, double occupancy room now runs between $399 and $599 a night on the weekend. During the week, those rooms can start at $129 and go up from there, depending on what is booked at the casino.
Down in the concourse, guests are criss-crossing the concourse, some browsing in stores, others visible in the distance in front of slot machines. Music pulsates as the tour group walks along the concourse, morphing at one point from Fun’s “We Are Young” to Free’s “All Right Now.”
The tour group stops where the concourse renovations are underway.
“We’re getting away from the Disney faux look,” said Annette DuBois, vice president of retail development and operations.
The construction of the outlet mall is changing the mix of stores. Fashion will no longer be an emphasis because the outlet mall will take care of that. “How can you compete with national brands at discount prices?” she asks.
Instead, the strategy will shift to gift purchasing and items that guests might need while they are staying at the casino. The number of retail shops will shrink from 12 to nine. Some existing shops will expand: the candy shop, for example will add a wider variety of sweets, including designer cupcakes, DuBois said.
Baake said the renovations are adding four new dining options that will provide a quicker-serve alternative to sit-down restaurants: Starbucks, Regina’s Pizza, Pequot Bay Seafood and Fox Deli.
The area of the concourse where those restaurants will be located is now being framed out by workers.
O’Connell said the restaurants will be ready by Christmas. He pauses a moment after saying that, realizing the holiday is fast approaching.
“Christmas isn’t that far away, is it?” O’Connell said.