Developer takes another swing at the Delta market
After a nearly seven-year hiatus, the developers of the Delta Blues Casino are back, proposing again to build the casino/hotel/convention center/blues museum complex in Greenville. A principal with Delta Blues Casino, LLC, says the issues that blocked the company’s first attempt to build on the Port City’s waterfront have largely been resolved.
However, the project is complex, and the company has already experienced a setback in its second swing at the Greenville market.
In late August, the Greenville City Council again gave approval to Delta Blues Casino to build on the former Chicago Mills site. The total cost of the proposed project is $48 million — $9 million for the casino and $39 million for the other components of the project.
The Associated Press reported that the developers would go before the Mississippi Gaming Commission at its Sept. 23 meeting to gain site approval.
But the developers did not make the docket. Charles Preiser, the casino’s president and CEO, said the commission “didn’t agree with the plan,” which includes an interim facility until a permanent casino can be built.
“We have to revise the plan again,” Preiser told the Mississippi Business Journal last week, pointing out that Delta Blues Casino’s original approval from the Commission has expired.
Preiser and his partners, Ted Stern and Jack Newton, are no strangers to setbacks. Preiser listed a litany of issues that plagued the project when it was originally proposed.
The biggest roadblock was money. Preiser said investors started backing out of the deal. New investors were landed, but they eventually backed out, as well, and a proposed partnership with a group with ties to Native American gaming also fell apart. Preiser said that failed partnership alone cost the project a year.
Proposed deals with partners to build the hotel also unraveled. Preiser said the hotel market at that time was flat.
In the end, Preiser and his partners put the project on hold.
This would be a blow to the people of Greenville, who had by that time already celebrated the casino’s arrival. The proposal to build a convention center and blues museum was what was most attractive to city leaders. This had the potential to bring “new money” into the community, further spurring efforts to revitalize the downtown district.
In May 2006, a groundbreaking ceremony was held with much fanfare. There was food, drink, live music, and Greenville Mayor Heather Hudson spoke.
It left many in Greenville perplexed. Long-time commercial Realtor Mal Kretschmar said as time passed, less and less was heard of the casino project and its developers. Eventually, the sign at the site came down, and the project appeared to be dead.
Now that the project has experienced a “resurrection,” Kretschmar and others are somewhat skeptical. In fact, this led Kretschmar to write an unsolicited letter to Stern expressing his feelings about the proposed gaming complex.
Kretschmar, who has not been involved in the project but did meet with Stern during the company’s first attempt to build, said he pointed out to Stern that the Greenville casino market had changed significantly since the first attempt to build, referencing the Harlow’s Casino that opened just outside of Greenville in 2007. He also stressed that the economy was much healthier back then than it is now.
In his opinion, Kretschmar wrote, the project had to offer the convention center/museum and provide consistent, top-flight music if Delta Blues Casino was to be a moneymaker and add positive momentum to downtown revitalization efforts.
“It can’t be just another casino,” Kretschmar said.
Preiser agrees, and said he understands the community’s reservations. He singled out many, including Hudson and Greenville city attorney Andy Alexander, who have worked hard to get this project out of the ground, and said he appreciates their patience.
Preiser said Delta Blues Casino, indeed, plans to have music every night playing in either of the project’s two proposed venues — including the smaller lounge that Preiser said was designed after B.B. King’s club in Memphis. Plans are to offer top-tier entertainment, such as King, at least once a month.
Money is not the issue now, Preiser said. In fact, he said lenders have come back, and are pushing for the complex to built sooner rather than later. This is one reason for the proposed interim casino. The permanent casino could take perhaps two years to build. The temporary facility would allow operations to begin in months, not years.
He said the recent announcement that Church Hill Downs Inc. is looking to buy Harlow’s is a plus, giving lenders more confidence in the market.
When asked if he thought Greenville could support a third casino, Preiser said, “I know it can.”
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