Published January 19. 2012 4:00AM
When the battles begin they will be fought on Fields of Fire.
Tom Vignato, a former hotel manager at the Mohegan Sun has leased 50 acres of wooded land off Noank-Ledyard Road where he will start a paintball park this spring.
"I'm clearing away a lot of dead trees," Vignato said last week, a day after receiving final approval from the town's Planning Commission. "I have to get rid of the hazards. I'm trying to do as much of it myself as possible, especially in the good weather we're having."
Vignato is venturing in a new direction after leaving the hospitality industry.
"I worked at Mohegan for nine years. On every nice day someone wanted something to do outside the casino area," he said. "Of course you tell them the aquarium and the Seaport. Then what?"
He said when visitors responded that they had already seen those places, he didn't have a lot more to offer them.
"I live in Mystic, so when I got laid off, I gave some thought to what might work," he said. "I did some research and paintball seemed like fun. I played in my 20s. I'm 43 now."
He said the game has advanced since his playing days. It is not that it is more difficult, but it is strategically more challenging.
"Kids play the video game, 'Call of Duty.' This is a live version. It has different scenarios, just like the video game. But it's active. It's outdoors."
The game is still growing in popularity, Vignato said, noting that the University of Connecticut's club team is a two-time national champion, in a league that includes West Point.
He has met the approval of the town's zoning and wetlands commissions.
Mike Murphy, of the planning department, said the project does not pose a threat to the environment, even though it is in a water re-use zone. The paintballs, which must be purchased on site, are environmentally safe.
Vignato said a day at the Fields of Fire paintball park might cost about the same as a round of golf, $45 to $70. The land will be divided into nine different fields. Players would be assigned to a field and to a team. After one "battle" they could move to another field and face a new opponent.
Vignato is in the process of clearing some of the briars, poison ivy and other undesirable debris from the fields. He said he will use modified shipping containers for storing his equipment and sales area.
"I learned in my research that it's popular in the game to use shipping containers. All you have to do is drop them on the property and make sure they are square and level," he said. "I'll put in a window and counter to serve customers. Actually, they're great props. They help create the atmosphere. You can drape some camo netting over them. Or have camouflage paint. People pull up and see that, it gets them excited to play the game. And they're really secure for the equipment."
He plans to open the business by the middle of May.
"The nearest field is Final Shot in Griswold," he said. "This area hasn't had as much exposure. I think when kids get a taste of it they will love it."
He's counting on it. Vignato wouldn't say how much he invested in the business. But he said he researched it thoroughly before going to the bank.
"I checked out the Web sites with the most reviews and called the most popular ones," he said. "The managers really let me pick their brains. They gave me really good information and food for thought, including on mistakes they made. They really helped me prepare my business plan."
"I'm investing quite a bit," he continued. "But once I explained my business plan to the bank they saw the potential."