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Mohegan Tribe to complete projects

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Construction workers will be back on the job next month at the Mohegan Tribe’s reservation to restart construction on a community center and government building with the help of $74 million in stimulus fund loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The financing includes $54 million in a direct loan from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which will be repaid with interest. The remaining $20 million is a combination of $18 million in guaranteed loans and $2 million in non-guaranteed loans.

The Mohegan financing is part of a $167.8 million package in recovery projects announced at the end of May by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The total funding through the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program will be matched with $60 million from other sources.

The ARRA funds are going toward various projects, including a number of health care facilities, libraries, farm and public safety equipment, school renovations and other social services. Several tribes are among the grant or loan recipients.

The loans are intended to create jobs and improve needed infrastructure in rural communities.

Mohegan tribal officials expect the construction at the reservation will create 114 direct jobs. Federal officials estimate the project will create 1,239 indirect jobs through vendors and subcontractors in the region.

Tribal Council Chairwoman Lynn Malerba said completing construction of the facility is the realization of a dream for the Mohegan Tribe.

“Nearly 20 years ago, before the tribe gained federal recognition, creating a community and government center was our goal. The community center is central to who we are as a people. We have outgrown the church that served as our cultural and community center. We are pleased to have the opportunity now to be able to complete construction and to provide essential services for our members and for future generations.”

The Mohegan Tribe has always used union labor at its Mohegan Sun casino and hotel facility and has enjoyed a good relationship with the trades. Keith Brothers, president of Laborers’ Local 547 in Groton, said the government building and community center construction project is good for workers in the region.

“The slowdown in work over the past year has been tough on workers and families. Putting people back to work is a good sign that economic recovery really is coming. This is truly good news for southeastern Connecticut,” Brothers said.

The building project was started in April 2007, and then in early 2009 halted due to the economic downturn, said Mohegan spokesman Joe Smith.

The building “is currently standing in Christo-like form as a shrink-wrapped frame,” Smith said, referring humorously to the internationally renowned artist who is famous for wrapping large structures and landscapes, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and part of the coast of Australia, in fabric.

The building’s structural steel, stairwells and storm drains were completed prior to putting the project on hold.

Construction of the government building and community center is expected to be completed in about a year.

The building’s initial investment in construction was $28 million, which would have been lost if the project were not completed, Malerba said.

Malerba said construction plans have been scaled back by about $15 million, given the current economic climate. While the building will have four floors and a lower level, only two floors, plus the lower level, will be completed in this phase. Some features have been eliminated altogether, but the building plans will allow the tribe to expand the center and grow as the economy improves.

The buildings have been designed to represent the culture and heritage of the Mohegan people. The outside will reflect the style of the tribe’s longhouses with arched roofs and elongated wings. The design also embraces the tribe’s commitment to the environment with significant natural lighting, stone from local quarries, low-e coated exterior glass, energy efficient lighting with sensors and high efficiency hot water boilers, motors, compressor chillers and air filtration.

The tribe has made annual payments to the Town of Montville and the State of Connecticut since gaining federal acknowledgment in 1994 and establishing the Mohegan Sun. It has also constructed new highways for safe access to the casino property, installed water lines and sidewalks, created 9,000 jobs, and supported hundreds of local town and charitable programs.

The Mohegan Sun and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino have created more than 20,000 jobs and contributed billions of dollars to the state over the past 15-plus years and have been the driving force behind the state’s economy, according to a number of economic studies.