Corps declines to issue Destination Broadwater permit

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Published: February 26,2001

BILOXI — The proposed $2.5-billion Destination Broadwater project on the Coast that proposed filling in 66 acres of the Mississippi Sound for six casinos, eight hotels and related resort facilities has failed to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

President’s Casino had proposed the project that would have been similar in size to Biloxi’s Casino Row. The company claimed the project would increase the Coast’s population and employment by 20%. But the project was controversial because of the large amount of fill required to make land in the Mississippi Sound, and the impact on highways and other infrastructure.

Starting in March 1999 President’s began an environmental impact study (EIS) that was required to access impacts of the project prior to a permit being issued. Officials from President’s Casino met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other governmental agencies at a meeting in late October 2000 and were told that it was unlikely that a permit would be issued for the project without major revisions.

“The Corps stated Destination Broadwater needed to make a decision because the prognosis for a permit from the EIS was questionable,” said Tim Dugan, spokesman for the Mobile District of U.S. Army COE. “They could look forward to spending a lot more money on the EIS or redesign the scope of their project.”

As of mid February President’s Casino had not been back in touch with the COE regarding redesigning the project, Dugan said.

Calls to President’s Casino were not returned to the Mississippi Business Journal by press time.

Reilly Morse, an attorney who represented opponents of the project, said that President’s Casino failed to show that the Coast needs this particular style of development, and that the benefits would outweigh negative environmental and social impacts.

“This shows that if you do a serious, rigorous alternatives analysis, developers cannot substantiate the claims they make for projects like this,” Morse said. “The President’s project is one of the more speculative proposals offered, and deserved careful scrutiny on the economic claims as well as the environmental claims. I hope this is the beginning of Mobile Corps of Engineers’ office giving the appropriate level of scrutiny to these types of large-scale projects.”

Morse said the President’s Casino is still free to develop what is their footprint, and is the most land-rich casino resort in Harrison County.

“So this doesn’t have to be a death knell to the President,” Morse said. “They just need to do something that fits better into the Coast community.”

Currently three other new casino projects have been proposed for the Gulf Coast which would also require an EIS in order to obtain permits. Of the three — Pine Hills Development and Casino World on the Bay of St. Louis near Interstate 10, and a casino proposed for D’Iberville next to the I-110 bridge — only Pine Hills is currently proceeding with the EIS. Pine Hills began its EIS this past fall. Dugan said normally it takes about two years to complete an EIS.

The Corps is also conducting a coastal EIS to evaluate the cumulative environmental impacts of large-scale development along coastal Mississippi. There is no moratorium on large-scale development while the coastal EIS is conducted. For more information, see the Web site http://www.sam.usace. army.mil/op/reg/sproj.htm.

Environmental permits are only one factor behind the lack of construction of new casino resorts on the Coast.

Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, said most of the proposed projects have been stopped or postponed because of the lack of availability of capital from the investment banking community. Olivier said that it is the high-yield market that typically finances these ventures for the most part, and money has dried up for new casino projects at present.

Olivier said that he expects, though, the existing casinos will continue to expand and improve their properties.

One major expansion of an existing casino was announced recently when Penn National Gaming Inc. said it plans a $35-million project at its Bay St. Louis property that will include a new 300-room hotel next to the casino, and extensive remodeling of the casino and buffet restaurant.

The 14-story hotel will include nine deluxe suites and 46 junior suites, 10,000 square feet of convention space with breakout rooms, a 24-hour restaurant, retail space, a pool and deck area, an arcade and a spa and fitness center.

General manager Todd J. Raziano said they anticipate the new projects will add 200 to 300 more jobs to their work force of 1,250 people. In addition to the casino, the Casino Magic Bay St. Louis property includes an existing 201-room hotel.

“Guests will have the option to choose between two levels of accommodations and pricing,” Raziano said. “They may choose the new higher-end hotel or the more moderately-priced hotel. We believe that our market can support both levels of accommodations.”

Raziano said the new hotels plans are designed in such a manner that future expansion can be easily accomplished to meet growth needs on the 591-acre property that includes an 18-hole Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, an existing 201- room hotel, a 100-site RV park, a marina and a 22,000-square-foot entertainment facility.

Penn National also owns and operates the Boomtown Casino in Biloxi, as well as three racetracks and eleven off-track wagering facilities located in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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