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Margaritaville largest casino investment since Katrina

When Beau Rivage Casino Resort first opened in Biloxi in 1999, it was such a huge project that many predicted it would be the largest investment ever made in a hotel-casino resort on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Fast forward to aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when many of the Coast’s gaming barges ended up floating up over U.S. 90 and the likelihood of another investment the magnitude of Beau Rivage seemed even more unlikely.

That’s why it is difficult to underestimate the post-Katrina decision by Harrah Entertainment Inc. to invest $704 million in the Margaritaville Casino & Resort. It represents the single-largest development investment on the Coast since Hurricane Katrina. The company expects this to be the first phase of what will eventually be a $1-billion investment in the property.

“The Margaritaville project represents a half-dozen of the 20,000 permits we’ve issued since the storm, but those six permits are the start of what promises to be the biggest jewel in the crown of our recovery,” said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. “The Margaritaville project represents the commitment that the private sector has in Biloxi, the thousands of people who are employed and the thousands more who will be employed long-term, the promise of the future tax revenues and, finally, the excitement this project is going to create. It’s going to be a unique brand, given the Jimmy Buffett connection.”

Singer/songwriter/best-selling author Jimmy Buffett, who was born in Pascagoula and attended college at the University of Southern Mississippi, said he has always considered myself a “Gulf Coast kid.”

“I was born there, grew up there and jumped on a stage for the first time there, before hitting the road,” Buffett said. “I have seen the world, traveled to distant shores, written a few songs and lived a few tall tales along the way, and now it is good to be coming back home.”

Buffett said having seen the best and the worst of times along the Mississippi Sound, and as a survivor of storms himself, he feel an enormous sense of gratitude and good fortune to be part of the rebirth of the region by joining forces with Harrah’s to bring the Margaritaville Casino & Resort “Down around Biloxi.”

The permit process

A number of permits have been issued by the City of Biloxi thus far for the he Margaritaville project: 1. Casino structural steel, $23.1 million. 2. Hotel structural steel, $9.95 million. 3. Site preparation and pile foundations, $7.4 million. 4. Pile caps, columns and podium structure, $25 million. 5. Site drainage and utilities, $1 million. 6. Core and shell for Village East and central plant areas, $33.5 million.

A huge amount of concrete is needed for the project that started in September 2007 and is expected be complete in 2010. The recent opening of the new U.S. 90 bridge between Biloxi and Ocean Springs has been helpful in getting concrete to the job site, said Jared Fuller, marketing director for the general contractor for Margaritaville, W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company.

“The new bridge has opened up another area to receive delivery of concrete,” Fuller said. “We had some concrete coming from Gulfport, and now we can bring it from Ocean Springs, as well, doubling the supply. That is good.”

There is some slowdown for everyone in the area because of the re-paving of U.S. 90. Fuller said U.S. 90 is a busy road anyhow, so when you shut down lanes for paving, it adds increased traffic congestion.

Currently, 350 to 400 people are working on the site with work concentrated on the foundation and the concrete podium deck at the site on the south side of U.S. 90 just west of Casino Magic.

“It is a great project and a great client,” Fuller said.

Growing the market

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said he fully expects this new property to further grow the Gulf Coast market.

“This property will build on one of the larger resort-style properties already on the Coast,” Gregory said. “Adding this property is an example of what is needed to expand the market. Just another casino will not work. Adding first-class restaurants and other amenities will prove to attract tourists. The entire Coast will benefit as a result.”

The community is very excited about adding Margaritaville to the mix of attractions, said Beverly Martin, executive director, Mississippi Casino Operators Association and president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Tourism Commission.

“We on the tourism commission recently made a trip to New York,” Martin said. “All the media we met with in New York were very aware of the Margaritaville project. The investment shows a lot of confidence in the area.”

Casino catalyst

The project has had a synergistic impact in encouraging other new development in the area. Martin said some developers were taking a wait-and-see attitude before proceeding with projects. But with Harrah’s huge investment coupled with record gaming revenues for the Coast casinos, a lot of developers are starting to break ground.

“We have had some record months for gaming revenues on the Coast,” Martin said. “I think Margaritaville will grow the market. There is a lot of good name recognition. It will bring the same thing to the market as Hard Rock brought, which is national name recognition. It also sends the message that the Coast is coming back and recovering.”

And you can bet there will be a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” offering at one of the restaurants

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net..

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