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Harrah’s, Buffett bringing big-time development to Biloxi

Margaritaville is coming to Biloxi as the largest single investment since Hurricane Katrina. Three entities are uniting to give the Gulf Coast economy and tourism a $1-billion shot in the arm.

Harrah’s Entertainment and singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett announced plans for a Margaritaville Casino and Resort with retail development by the Simon Property Group. The first phase, the Margaritaville project, is expected to begin this summer and will cost more than $700 million. Spring 2010 is projected as the completion date for all phases.

The development will be located on the south side of U.S. 90 on the former sites of the Biloxi Grand Casino and Casino Magic Biloxi. Harrah’s Entertainment owns the Grand Casino (now operating on the north side of the highway) and acquired the Casino Magic property after the storm for a total of 80 acres, the largest footprint of any resort in east Biloxi.

Coming a long way

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said the city has come a long way since August 29, 2005. “This announcement represents a huge milestone in the long-term recovery of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said. “Harrah’s is following through on the commitment they made to Biloxi just days after Hurricane Katrina struck.”

The mayor noted the Buffett connection. The widely-renowned singer was born in Pascagoula, graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, and while going to school played at nightclubs in Biloxi.

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, praised the project for bringing in a nationally known name to the Coast.

“It brings a wealth of attractions and amenities outside of gaming, which are important and vital to the Coast’s comprehensive future success,” he said. “Gaming companies know that people are looking for a vacation experience, not just a place to gamble. The commission has stressed this as well with the infrastructure requirements we have placed on gaming companies. We want a family atmosphere and resort experience for those who travel to the casinos in Mississippi.”

Setting the stage

Gregory said the property will set the stage for future developments to focus on attractions outside of gaming, which has become a nationwide trend for the casino industry.

“This development is the first attempt to take the Gulf Coast in that direction,” he said.

The Harrison County Tourism Commission is excited about the new project, according to Commissioner Gary Ponthieux. The multi-faceted casino and resort will boost the area’s efforts to become a tier one destination.

“It means tourism and economic dollars coming to the Gulf Coast and no doubt it will bring in other things,” he said. “People are looking at the area more now than ever and there is a great market here for investors.”

Just to the east, the new casino’s neighbors and competitors, the Isle of Capri and the Palace, welcome the increased activity and traffic.

“We are as pleased as the rest of the business community to hear the announcement of Harrah’s plans for their expansion,” said Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino Resort. “The level of investment in this project speaks well of their belief in the potential of this market as a premier destination resort.”

He went on to say that a facility of this scope can create great economic synergy for East Biloxi and any existing or future businesses at this end of town.

“The inclusion of the Simon Group is an indication of the non-gaming retail development that is essential to the long-term growth of our tourism-based economic development,” Crosby added.

Rich Westfall, community development director for the Isle of Capri Casino Resort, said Margaritaville’s strong national brand will help the Coast further develop as a major gaming destination.

“The opening of Margaritaville, combined with our $180-million expansion and the opening of the Ocean Springs-Biloxi bridge will change the dynamics of our market place and will drastically increase the traffic flow from our major markets to the east.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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