The beachfront in Gulfport is a little brighter with the opening of the Island View Casino Resort. Only the second business to open on Gulfport’s stretch of U.S. 90 since Katrina, the casino brings 800 jobs back and is the port city’s only casino.
Island View is privately owned by Gulf Coast natives Rick Carter and Terry Green, who were founders of Gulfport’s Copa Casino, which was destroyed by the hurricane. The businessmen entered the gaming industry in 1988 with the purchase of a cruise ship that was moored in the Mississippi State Port and became the Copa Casino.
“People thought we were crazy buying an old cruise ship,” Carter said, “but we stuck with it and now this is a dream come true.”
Carter and Green purchased the 40-acre beachfront property that was the Grand Casino resort from Harrah’s Entertainment last March. With legislation allowing casinos to open on land, the owners renovated the building that was the Grand’s Oasis Hotel on the north side of U.S. 90. This phase has 30,000 square feet of gaming space, a 350-seat buffet and 562 hotel rooms and suites.
The second phase, already underway, is expected to be complete in early 2007 and will bring the total gaming space to 80,000 square feet. It will also include a 24-hour steakhouse restaurant, coffee shop and fine dining restaurant. Approximately 1,500 jobs will be created by this phase.
Upon full build-out, Island View will become the area’s largest casino and one of the area’s largest private employers. “If you like this, phase II will blow you away,” Carter said at the opening of phase I. “Terry and I are committed to making Island View a success that will be shared by our employees, state and local officials and the residents of Gulfport. The city is building back and is on the verge of a lot of exciting things.”
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr thanked Carter and Green for bringing gaming back to the city. “It’s about quality,” he said. “This is a premiere property and we’re honored to have them in Gulfport.”
Warr said the project’s half-a-billion-dollar investment will set the standard and kicks off the entertainment district he envisions for the city. Before Katrina, Gulfport had only two casinos. The mayor received some criticism when the Grand Casino decided not to rebuild in Gulfport. He says he would like to see five or six casinos along the Gulfport waterfront but wants them in a clearly defined area.
Figures released by the mayor’s office listed $13,700 as the approximate gaming revenue loss per day to the city by the destruction of the two casinos. City wide, the estimated annual loss in water and sewer revenue is $7 million and estimated loss in property tax is $4 million. As the state’s second largest city recovers, sales taxes are predicted to offset losses in gaming and property tax.
With the opening of the Island View and its jobs, hundreds of millions in federal aid, healthy sales tax receipts and large number of building permits issued, the city is on its way to a sound recovery, the mayor said.
In introducing Dalton McGuire of the State Port Commission, Carter noted that McGuire voted for the gaming duo the first time they came before the commission with a proposal to place the old cruise ship in the port and every time since.
“I had faith in them and you see what you have here now,” said McGuire, president of the commission. “It’s hard to imagine how much we need what this place will do for the port, city and state.”
The chairman of the State Gaming Commission, Jerry St Pé, said, “We’re a regulatory group, but we’re also partners with the gaming industry to help them be successful. We commend Rick and Terry for staying the course.”
Terry Green thanked the Legislature for passing the law allowing casinos to come off the water. “We wouldn’t be back without that,” he said. “I also want to thank the gaming commission, the port, city council and mayor and all our great employees.”
The interior of the renovated facility uses muted shades of green and brown for a soothing look that doesn’t follow the usual glitzy casino color scheme. There are 60 pieces of artwork in custom Italian frames and Italian hand-set tiles used throughout. The Friedmutter Group of Las Vegas and Atlantic City along with Kuhlman Design Group of St. Louis designed the casino’s interior. Roy Anderson Corp. of Gulfport was the construction contractor.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.