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Tunica continues economic resurgence

TUNICA — Fitzgerald’s is making parking more convenient, Horseshoe is investing $40 million in an expansion project, Sam’s Town is plunking down $21 million in renovations, and the Isle of Capri just wrapped up completion of a new hotel.

“We have had phenomenal growth,” said Webster Franklin, executive director of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It just keeps getting better and better. Since the arrival of the gaming industry in 1992, over $3 billion has been invested in Tunica County.”

Tunica, located 30 miles south of Memphis and the third-largest gaming resort destination in the U.S., currently lists 10 casino resorts and more than 6,000 new hotel rooms. The 10 resort properties collectively offer 120,000 square feet of flexible meeting space for groups up to 1,600 with individual meeting facilities up to 40,000 square feet.

After some initial shuffling in the mid- to late-1990s with casino trades, buyouts and mergers, the major players are not simply settling into place. Competition has spurred renovations and expansions in the eight-year-old gaming market.

“There is much anticipation for the months to come as renovations, expansions and grand openings get underway,” he said. “Tunica is experiencing unprecedented growth, development and improvements. To continue providing state-of-the-art facilities, service and accommodations, several properties are undergoing renovations and additions.”

Construction of Fitzgerald’s new $5-million, 400-space parking garage that will make parking more convenient for guests and will provide a sheltered entrance into the facility, has an expected completion date of June 30.

“Horseshoe Casino & Hotel is investing $40 million into an expansion that will add 435 slot machines and 10 table games, which are expected to be ready by Dec. 15,” Franklin said. “The buffet restaurant will be moved off of the barge to a new building adjacent to the casino. This will increase the seating capacity from 425 to 625. This is scheduled to open Nov. 1. Next to the buffet, there will be a 100-seat Chinese restaurant. A new 10-acre parking addition will be located behind the property.”

The Paradise Entertainment Center will mark the completion of the Phase I expansion for the Isle of Capri Tunica, which will include a 227-room hotel featuring 120 deluxe suites.

“The Isle announced plans to begin construction on the $14-million Paradise Entertainment Center,” he said. “Greg Thompson Productions of Seattle will produce Las Vegas-style shows for the state-of-the-art theaters. Slated to open in November, the Paradise Entertainment Center will feature two adjacent theaters under one roof with a shared entrance, bar, gift shop and lobby area.”

Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall plans to spend $21 million to upgrade its interior “from the ceilings to the floors, to an elegant, accommodating and exciting gaming and entertainment establishment,” Franklin said.

“Just six months after the grand opening of the first phase of Casino Factory Shoppes, the mid-south developer, Casino Factory Shoppes, LLC, has announced plans to begin construction on a 60,000-square-foot expansion of the outlet center,” he said. “The new phase is scheduled to be open in time for the 2000 holiday shopping season.”

When the Tunica Exposition Center and Arena opens in July, the facility will feature a seating capacity of 6,000, including 14 skyboxes with accommodations for 20 to 24 persons per box. The center’s 48,000-square-foot arena floor will make it the largest of its kind in the state. The center, designed to attract trade shows, horse shows, concerts and banquets, has been booking events for months, said A.C. Chapman, expo director.

Within the next five years, air travelers will enjoy a new airport facility, Franklin said.

“A site selection and feasibility study has been completed for the construction of (the) Tunica County Airport,” he said. “County officials are currently in the process of securing $35 million in funding from the state of Mississippi and the U.S. Department of Transportation for the 7,000-foot runway and support facilities. This project is scheduled for completion by the year 2005.”

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

About Lynne W. Jeter

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