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Plans announced for casino

The Coast-Hancock County

Hancock County recently had promising news with the announcement by a Las Vegas company that it intends to develop a casino resort on property in Lakeshore that formerly housed the Jubilee and Jubilation casinos.

Phoenix Leisure Inc. said it has obtained a lease with an option to buy the 30-acre site that has been vacant for about two years. A 250-room hotel and a new, 900-foot-long sand beach are included in plans announced by the casino company.

Laus Abdo, chief financial officer for Phoenix Leisure, said the company is currently in the design phase of the project, and anticipates applying for the necessary permits in four to six months. Phoenix Leisure owns an undeveloped gaming site in Central City, Colo., and recently acquired the Wyoming Downs Racetrack in Evanston, Wyo.

Phoenix Leisure is traded on the Vancouver Stock Exchange.

Hancock County development officials were not contacted prior to announcement of casino plans by Phoenix Leisure.

Hal Walters, executive director, Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, said if the casino resort does materialize as announced, officials are hopeful that it will help renew the air charter business at Stennis International Airport.

The casino site is considered the most isolated on the Coast. Former casinos at the site attracted a lot of Louisiana gamblers, but that business fell off considerably after gaming was legalized in Louisiana.

Hancock`s biggest industrial development in history, the $400-million Wellman plant located at Port Bienville Industrial Park, is scheduled to come on line Dec. 1 after a construction period of two and a half years.

“It is my impression that the plant is pretty much sold out already as far as production capacity,” Walters said.

The Wellman plant will create 300 jobs in the first phase of production.

Another major industry in the area, GE Plastics, also has an expansion underway. GE`s $70-million expansion, expected to be compete in June 1999, will add another 60 to 70 jobs at the facility.

Also currently under construction now at Port Bienville is a $20-million plant owned by the French company PolyChemie, a subsidiary of SNF. The plant employing 22 people will manufacture a liquid polymer used as a water-treatment chemical. The plant is currently 30% complete. Company officials expect the plant to go on line by February of 1999.

Growth is also continuing at Gulf Coast Fabrication, which specializes in building ocean- going barges at its Port Bienville location.

The company currently employs 400 people, and has said it would like to hire another 100 workers if they could be located.

Hancock County is also continuing with its airport improvement projects, and is surveying businesses and governmental agencies at the Stennis Space Center to evaluate what is needed to develop a new business and technology park at the Stennis International Airport. Currently the port and harbor commission has contracted with LGA, a Denver architectural and engineering firm, to develop a master plan for the business and technology park adjacent to the airport.

The county received a $103,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for development of the master plan. The Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission are providing the local and state funding match of $14,000.

“We`re establishing a regional approach to economic development,” Walters said. “The first structure, the David N. McDonald Training Center, is already built and operating. It is already filled up to capacity some days. We also have a contract with Hancock Medical to operate an industrial medicine clinic right next to the training center at Port Bienville. Our plans are to establish a child care center out there, as well.”

Walter said airport improvements mean that nearly all of the infrastructure tools needed to accommodate large commercial aircraft are in place except for an instrument landing system.

“That is the last remaining part of the puzzle,” Walters said. “An instrument landing system would allow aircraft to land with a ceiling as low as 200 feet.”

Money for the system has been appropriated by Congress, and funds are expected to be available in the fall of 1999.

About Becky Gillette

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