Jesse Luis has always loved the puzzles of real estate development: how businesses wind up on the land they have, how to fit a big idea into the available space, and most of all how to sell the vision to the crucial playmakers.
He remembers one of his first wins: a Taco Bell location in New York City. His department head was convinced it would never work, but Luis dragged him to a nearby competitor’s location to watch the lunch rush.
His enthusiasm was contagious, and they got their location, which became the highest-grossing Taco Bell in the region at the time. “When you get a success like that, you just can’t wait to do the next one,” says Luis, laughing.
From fast food, he craved bigger canvases to create hospitality experiences: first in hotels and now at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Land in Connecticut. Serving as vice president of resort development, Luis’s charge is to make the casino the region’s top destination for fun-seekers of all sorts.
“In hospitality, you’re doing your job right when someone walks into your place and whatever problems they have, whatever issues, everything goes to the back of their mind and they become present in that space,” Luis explains. “If you can create that feeling, you’re doing your job right and that’s what we’re creating here at Foxwoods.”
In 2017, Luis received a call from a headhunter: Foxwoods Resort Casino was looking for someone with experience in hotels and developing additional land holdings. When he heard about the opportunity, he was excited for the chance to make an impact. At a place like Foxwoods, he could expand the experience, create on a grander scale, and—most importantly—give new guests reasons to come and stay.
One exciting development at Foxwoods is the Great Wolf Lodge addition. Great Wolf Lodge is a resort chain specializing in indoor water parks. The site at Foxwoods will help develop an audience less served by the casino environment: families.
“We were asking, strategically: ‘What would be a good fit here?’” he explains. “We were mostly getting people for the table games and slot machines, but Great Wolf will help diversify the offerings and get a demographic that we’re not really getting now.” Great Wolf is just one of several high-impact ongoing projects.
Recently, Foxwoods celebrated its 30th anniversary, and Luis is overseeing the opening of the newly renovated Rainmaker Expo Center, a new High Stakes Bingo Hall and VIP Canopy Players Lounge, the addition of the iconic fast-casual restaurant chain, Wahlburgers, the renovation of the brand-new Golden Dragon restaurant, and an $85 million investment in a new, next-generation casino concept anchored by a celebrity chef restaurant coming to the heart of the property, the Grand Pequot Tower.
It’s critical for Luis to maintain healthy relationships with a variety of contractors. His primary tactic is to get people to buy into the vision: with ingenuity, cooperation, and hard work, a hospitality destination can go from good to great. People respond to that challenge and help bring the vision to life.
The best external contractors become long-term creative partners in the work. Eric Zuena, partner at ZDS Architects, fulfils this role for Luis and Foxwoods. Since bringing the onsite DraftKings lounge to success, he’s helped develop the vision and execution for the Golden Dragon restaurant and Canopy Lounge.
That approach is important inside the company, too—with supervisors, direct reports, and colleagues across departments. Luis is grateful that Foxwoods CEO Jason Guyot, a member of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal nation, is personally excited about land development and future expansion. The pair work hand-in-hand to raise the destination’s profile and build the vision within the company.
“Think about it: you’re more likely to buy into someone who really believes in the project and believes that it’s going to be successful,” he says. “It’s contagious, right? That’s helped me a lot; people buy into the vision.”
Luis’s complementary skill is close listening. “When you learn to listen well, when you’re really practicing that, then you’re able to show people how your idea can benefit the land, your resort, the nation,” he says. From a shared understanding, you can develop buy-in, and when that buy-in is achieved, possibilities open up. For Foxwoods, it means that the broadening array of amenities positions their resort at the top.
“You get to a point where if you add enough unique things to your resort, it becomes very difficult for someone else to copy you—and you basically become the destination in your region,” he says. “At Foxwoods, we are really creating the greatest integrated resort experience in the Northeast. I feel like I’m making a difference and contributing to the growth of this place, and there’s no better feeling than that.”
Turner is excited to be the construction manager for the new Great Wolf Lodge at Mashantucket. Our previous projects at Foxwoods include Hard Rock Café’s interior fit-out and retail space within the Rainmaker Casino. Turner is a North America-based company and leading builder in diverse market segments. We undertake large, complex projects, embrace emerging technologies, and make a difference for our clients, employees, and community. Our 12,000 employees complete $15 billion-plus of construction each year.
With offices in Providence RI and Washington DC, ZDS is a multi-disciplinary design firm that provides architectural & interior design services to the hospitality, gaming, commercial and multifamily sectors. Congratulations to Jesse Luis on his much-deserved recognition. We look forward to our continued partnership with Jesse and Foxwoods Resort Casino.