For nine years, Tom Vignato worked at Mohegan Sun, and people would ask him, “What else is there to do around here?”
He’d suggest Mystic Aquarium or Mystic Seaport. But families would often say they’d been there, done that.
Then the casino laid Vignato off, and he had to figure out what to do.
He decided to try to answer that question he used to get asked. He emptied his 401K, used it as payment against a business loan, rented 50 acres in Groton and is opening a paintball park.
“I played paintball when I was younger, and I know all you need is woods,” said Vignato, 43, of Mystic.
“Fields of Fire” on Noank Ledyard Road opens June 30, and already has had visits from players and teams sizing up the place. Vignato's starting with six playing fields, and is running power from the road to the field and building a speedball field. He'll put up netting across telephone polls to enclose the playing fields.
He received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development that he had to match for the project. He hopes to eventually have 20 fields.
Vignato and his wife, Enza, are originally from Long Island. They lived in Los Vegas for nine years, worked in the hotel industry there, and later moved to the Groton side of Mystic. Vignato worked nine years as a guest services manager for Mohegan Sun before he was laid off in 2010.
He said he could have gotten a job elsewhere, but he wanted to stay in Mystic.
He said he first considered opening an indoor sports complex, but realized it required a lot of start up capital.
Paint ball required less, though it was still hard to get a loan. Two local banks turned him down before Westerly Community Credit Union said yes.
Vignato said he posted a notice about his business on pbnation.com, a website for paintball players, and a visitor arrived three days later. It was raining and Vignato was taking field measurements when the captain of a paintball team from Worcester, Mass., walked into the park.
“He said, ‘I was off today and I just thought I’d take a look’,” Vignato said.
The Facebook page for "Fields of Fire" has more than 300 friends.
The most popular game in paintball is a version of capture the flag. Players are divided into two equal teams, given an armband to identify the team and assigned to a “fort” with a flag in it.
The goal is to get the other team’s flag before yours is captured. If you're shot by a paint ball, you're out. A referee supervises the game.
Vignato said he hopes the park will appeal to people, and fill the need for another activity in the area.
“I’m expecting a lot of new, first time players here,” he said.