Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 9:13 a.m.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which operates Foxwoods Resort Casino, said Wednesday that it plans to build a 600-acre resort and casino in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the latest move by an Indian tribe to expand operations off tribal land.
The tribe said its plans include a 400-room hotel, a marina, casino, 160 residential lots, condominiums, two golf courses, retail shops, a convention center and botanical gardens.
Foxwoods, which is built on tribal land in Connecticut, is one of the largest casinos in the world. Other tribes, including the Mohegans, have diversified. The Mohegans, operators of Mohegan Sun, recently purchased the Pocono Downs racetrack in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in anticipation of opening a slots facility.
The Mashantucket Pequots said they are working with William and Punch Partners, a development group that owns waterfront property on St. Croix, where casino gambling is legal.
Tribal spokesman Bruce McDonald said no additional information will be available Wednesday.
According to a news release issued by a lending company last year, the developers are planning to build "The Mills of St. Croix," on the site of one of the island's old sugar mills. It did not mention the tribe's involvement.
James A.D. Francis, chief of staff to Virgin Islands Senate President Lorraine L. Berry, said Wednesday that the casino plan was in development and believes the tribe's involvement will be viewed favorably by local officials.
"That would be good news for St. Croix because it would mean William and Punch had a financial backer to really assist them," Francis said.
At a Senate hearing last year, residents said they wanted the resort project but were concerned about environmental effects and that the developers may not obtain financing for the deal, The St. Croix Source newspaper reported.
"St. Croix is a market that has exciting possibilities, and any development, like our other enterprises, should respect the natural beauty of its surroundings," Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Michael J. Thomas said in a statement.
The nearly 600-acre site was purchased for $3.75 million, according to last year's news release by Kennedy Funding, a lending group, which said it had arranged a loan of $3.9 million.
Francis said casino developers must seek approval from the Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission. Legislators generally support casino gambling to increase tourism, he said.