UPDATED: Mohegan teaming with New York developer on Manhattan casino bid

Jan. 31—Mohegan Sun's parent company, Mohegan, has joined a New York City developer's bid to build a multi-billion-dollar entertainment complex on the east side of midtown Manhattan near the United Nations headquarters.

Mohegan would develop and operate the casino portion of the development, Ray Pineault, Mohegan's president and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview late Tuesday afternoon from Incheon, South Korea, where Mohegan is developing a $1.5 billion casino resort.

Soloviev Group, which describes itself as "a pioneer and leader in socially responsible and environmentally sustainable development," announced its partnership with Mohegan in a press release in which it said its proposed Freedom Plaza would "introduce the world's first museum dedicated to the celebration of freedom and democracy."

In addition to the casino and museum, the development would include a substantial green area, a state-of-the-art performance venue, an iconic Ferris wheel, a hotel with more than 1,000 rooms and two residential towers that would "work towards satisfying the city's critical shortage of housing," the release said.

Billionaire Stefan Soloviev, chairman of the Soloviev Group, told Forbes magazine's website he's ready to invest $3.2 billion in the project, which would be developed on a 6.5-acre site the group's website describes as "the largest undeveloped plot of land in Manhattan." The site, owned by Soloviev's family for 15 years, is "shovel-ready," the site says.

The proposed museum would feature large slabs of the Berlin Wall from Soloviev's personal collection, according to Forbes.

Pineault said the Soloviev-Mohegan deal came together "fairly quickly" a month or so ago after an associate of Pineault's made a connection with the development group.

"We made a call to them, and went down to their offices in Manhattan," Pineault said. "Over a series of meetings, including a couple of all-day sessions, we hammered out an agreement ― two family businesses with similar cultures and goals."

"It's an exciting opportunity," he said.

The area immediately surrounding the Freedom Plaza site is largely undeveloped, "providing an opportunity for access without undue disruption," the Soloviev news release said. Connected to the Franklin D. Roosevelt/East River Drive and numerous bus stops, the site is a short walk from the 34th Street ferry and Grand Central Station.

The developers will explore providing additional ferry service to the site, the release said.

"Freedom Plaza will generate thousands of well-paying jobs throughout the construction process and upon opening, and inject the local economy with millions of dollars in new tax revenue," it said. "Area businesses will also benefit from the halo effect of the city's newest destination. Infusing the brand values of both Soloviev Group and Mohegan will undoubtedly provide a compelling bid and competitive proposal."

Pineault said as many as a dozen casino operators ultimately are expected to vie for the three downstate casino licenses New York state gaming regulators are in the process of awarding. The frontrunners for two of the licenses are believed to be Genting and MGM Resorts, the operators, respectively, of Resorts World New York City in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers, which now only offer slot machines. Casino licenses would allow them to provide table games and likely lead to their expansions.

Such major casino operators as Caesars, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands have proposed projects in and near Manhattan. Proposed sites include Times Square, Hudson Yards on the Far West Side, the top floors of the Saks Fifth Avenue department store and by the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

"There are a lot of bidders, and there will be more, probably more than 10," Pineault said. "Some haven't tipped their hand yet, but we should know more by Friday," when bidders' inquiries are due.

"It's a very competitive process but we think we have a great story to tell about why we're the best," he said.

Pineault said if Mohegan wins a New York casino license, the Freedom Plaza project could rival the size of its Inspire project in South Korea, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.


Editor's note: The last paragraph has been updated to clarify Ray Pineault's comment about the Freedom Plaza project.