The tribe has laid the final exterior steel beam of a new 10,000 seat arena, part of an $800 million expansion. The nearly 800 workers on the job were given an early start to the Labor Day holiday when construction was suspended at noon Friday for the ceremonial beam-signing and raising ceremony. An evergreen, for good luck, was attached to the beam and commemorative T-shirts were handed out to the laborers. "On behalf of the Mohegan tribe and the construction management team, I want to thank our workers for their countless efforts in keeping this project on schedule," said Tribal Chairman Roland J. Harris. The arena, slated to open in October 2001, will be followed by a 34-story, 1,200-room luxury hotel and convention center expected to be completed in April 2002. Construction on the expansion, dubbed "Project Sunburst," began last December. The tribe opened its casino in 1996. The Mohegans hope the arena will attract big name performers, sports entertainment shows such as the World Wrestling Federation, and athletic competitions including pre-season NBA, tennis and college basketball. "I think it's going to help us become the Mecca of New England," said tribal Chief Ralph W. Sturges.
A wooden mask has been returned to the tribe on a temporary basis. The University of Pennsylvania is loaning the mask for an unspecified amount of time, tribal historian Melissa Fawcett said. The Crooked Nose mask was carved from maple by the late chief Harold Tantaquidgeon in the 1930s and used in ceremonies to scare away bad spirits. The mask story is of a man who didn't follow Creator's instructions . When he turned around, he banged into something and damaged his nose. From then on, he was obedient to the Creator, Fawcett said. Dr. Frank Speck, an anthropologist at the university, borrowed the mask from the Mohegans in the late 1930s and died before he was able to return it. Lucy Williams, keeper of the America Collection at the university museum, delivered the mask Aug. 30. Williams said Speck bought the mask and the museum has had it about 70 years. "It's on long-term loan to the tribe. We're very pleased to be able to do that, to share it with them, because we know it's important to them." The Mohegans would like the university to give them the mask. Tribal attorney Kevin Meisner said the temporary return of the mask took years of negotiations.