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New casino, retail space and infrastructure improvements transforming Neshoba County

Tribe’s gaming revenue fuels development

PHILADELPHIA — Retailers have snapped up retail space in the first phase of the not-yet-completed first phase of Choctaw Town Center, a master-planned development and part of a $288-million deal that includes construction of a new casino, expansions and renovations to Silver Star Casino & Resort and area infrastructure improvements.

“We’ve sold out,” said John Hendrix, assistant director of economic development for the tribe, talking about the 43,000-square-foot shopping center scheduled to open by Oct. 1. “We’re already taking phone calls for phase II information, which will include retail, dining, entertainment, office and medical facilities. The medical park already has one tenant lined up.”

Tenants for the first phase include Ace Hardware, Dollar General, Charlie’s Hair Salon, Science First, Fluff & Fold Laundromat, Partridge Propane, Exxon, Citizens Bank and a grocery store that cannot be named yet, Hendrix said.

The next step in the Choctaw Town Center project, which will eventually include residential housing, dining establishments, entertainment facilities, commercial offices and medical facilities centered around a lake, will include developing apartments that will be managed by the tribe, Hendrix said.

“The tribe has a waiting list of 500 people for housing and this will be a new development that will solve the housing problem,” he said “It will also be a nice little village. We’d like to build three-story apartments and, as the demand grows for retail, convert the first floor to retail. We think it will be a big hit.”

Creda Stewart, public information director for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, said ground has been broken on a much-needed 1,200-space, four-story parking garage and that the widening of Mississippi 16 has been accelerated.

“We have about eight major projects happening right now, plus improvements in various communities,” she said. “We’ve also broken ground and are moving ahead quite rapidly on locating the gaming commission at the gaming resort property behind Silver Star.”

Dick Stewart, director of marketing for Silver Star, said the casino is increasing the number of promotions every month, which include car and merchandise giveaways.

“We’re strengthening our entertainment program,” he said. “Headlining entertainment will continue on a monthly basis, and we’ll have everyone from Merle Haggard and George Jones to Rick Springfield and Delbert McClinton. Our golf course packages continue to be a top seller for us, due to the level of quality of Dancing Rabbit, and we’re looking forward to all the new, fascinating projects the tribe has planned.”

The $177-million Golden Moon Casino & Resort, scheduled to be built on Mississippi 16 across from Silver Star by February 2002, will include a 90,000-square-foot casino floor, 572 hotel rooms, seven restaurants, an enclosed, air-conditioned pedestrian sky bridge to connect the two resorts, an indoor/outdoor swimming pool and extensive water features and fountains that will be coordinated with a laser light show.

Improvements to the Silver Star include the addition of a 2,400-square-foot entrance to the casino, a 41,000-square-foot shopping mall, a 45,000-square-foot show theater with a 1,200-stadium seat auditorium, a 8,100-square -foot north entrance and renovation and reconfiguration of existing parking lots.

In February, Doug Pattison, former senior vice president and general manager of Sheraton Casino and Hotel in Robinsonville, stepped in as general manager of Silver Star after the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians opted for early termination of their contract with Boyd Gaming in October — 17 months earlier than originally scheduled, for a one-time payment of $72 million.

“At the beginning, when we talked about building a casino on the reservation, nobody believed it would be as successful as it is today, but the opportunity for growth here is very good,” said Chief Philip Martin. “People in a 300-mile area are interested in gaming and entertainment, going to places that are different from the norm. The operation is casino-driven, but we want to provide more than just gaming. We want to give customers more choices in restaurants and hotels, and incentives to stay two or three days. In addition to the gaming, we’re also developing our community and may put in additional golf courses, develop outdoor recreation, a cultural center and other amenities.”

The tribe, one of the 10 largest employers in the state, has more than 6,600 employees on its annual payroll of $123.7 million. The tribal government, headed by Martin, is responsible for providing members with education, health care, job training, housing, police and fire protection, tribal courts, utilities and other community infrastructure.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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