VICKSBURG — By late August, Vicksburg’s downtown City Front will be without a floating casino for the first time since 1993 if the winning bidder at an auction April 25 for the former Grand Station Casino follows through on a bankruptcy court-ordered sale of the vessel.
What happens to the spot beyond late summer is an open question.
Keyes Recycling owner Robert Keyes Jr. bought the vessel for $10,000 in a sale that included most furniture and equipment on the 36,000-square-foot vessel. He has 120 days from the date of the sale to remove the vessel in its entirety, according to an order March 22 from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Neil P. Olack that permitted the auction.
“I have $100,000 just in the demolition of it. I’m just going to move it to the harbor,” said Keyes, who needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove the cofferdam in which the vessel has floated since Harrah’s opened the casino 20 years ago.
His costs will rise if it involves sediment being released into the canal from the cofferdam. A so-called “Section 10″ permit is free if it doesn’t involve discharging particles, Corps spokesman Greg Raimondo said. The permit allows such work in navigable waterways.
“We really don’t know how much crud is in that thing, though,” Raimondo said.
High water on the Mississippi River and the Yazoo Diversion Canal predicted through June means Keyes can “float it over the cofferdam,” as he said recently. If he misses the judge’s deadline, the case’s court-appointed trustee may request another order from the bankruptcy judge.
An empty waterfront — and a 117-room empty hotel near to the casino that wasn’t included in the auction and remains closed — means fewer objects on the city’s skyline.
Questions of the two men vying to occupy the mayor’s office by summer’s end bring a few ideas.
“If I inherit it, it will be primed for development,” retiring state Rep. George Flaggs Jr. said.
Flaggs won the Democratic primary for mayor this past week and faces builder Daryl Hollingsworth, an independent, in the general election on June 4.
Despite the entire property being tied up in bankruptcy, both men envision a link, whether physical or not, between the hotel and Vicksburg Convention Center barely a half-mile south.
“I’m not in a position yet to favor something there,” Flaggs said. “I like the idea. But, I’ll guarantee you I’ll come up with something if I’m in there.”
In October, Iowa-based VenuWorks, which runs the convention center, recommended the center expand by more than 110,000 square feet and mentioned a 150-room hotel for the center in a report to the VCC advisory board. No details were added because authors said the report focused solely on expansion.
Hollingsworth, who owns property two blocks away from the former casino, sees more.
“It would be wonderful if we had a restaurant and a boat slip for a marina there,” Hollingsworth said. “I absolutely hate to see the boat is being sold, because there’s a million possibilities right where it’s at.”
Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission, said it’s a prime spot for another casino but not a marina.
“I think there’s a lot of potential there,” Mansfield said. “I don’t know if that’s the best place for a marina because we have the two queens coming and going in — American Queen and Queen of the Mississippi — and then there’s port traffic.”
In March 2012, Ken Bickford, a minor investor in the hotel, announced it was being purchased and mentioned a marina as part of a redevelopment plan. Within a month, the casino had closed and its ownership group, Delta Investments & Development LLC, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The case was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation case in November after a court-approved sale of the casino to M Street Investments fell through. The adjacent hotel was not included in the liquidation.
At present, the city’s interest is recouping any funds it can from the casino’s former owners and encouraging Keyes to follow through with his plans, according to counsel.
“It needs to get moved,” said attorney Walter Newman, hired to represent the city in the bankruptcy proceedings, of the vessel. “For any project to get on track, it needs to get moved.”
The city plans to seek back property taxes, utility payments and, in a uniquely separate aspect, rent on 2.95 acres at City Front that could be worth more than $800,000, according to terms of the original contract between the city and Harrah’s, the boat’s original operator. The contract stipulated revenue-based payments through October 2033.
The acreage includes the area beneath the walkway between the hotel and casino and both parking garages.
The casino opened in 1993 as Harrah’s. It changed hands several times. The Grand Station closed March 28, 2012 and laid off 230 workers.