|By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 10, 2006 - BILOXI -- Harrah's Entertainment, the world's largest gambling company, will invest more than $1 billion to build two casinos in Biloxi, said Mayor A.J. Holloway, who expects the city's economy to be moving at "full speed in three years."
Other casino companies and condominium developers are also approaching the city with waterfront projects, but so far no one has proposed any apartment complexes to house tourism workers. Inflated land prices, proposed elevation requirements for buildings and fragmented ownership of property are obstacles to the creation of new affordable housing, the mayor told the Sun Herald.
Harrah's, which owns the Grand Casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, plans to build two casinos in Biloxi: one on the north side of Beach Boulevard and one on the south side, Holloway said. The company, which last month announced it is pulling out of Gulfport, will rebrand the casinos with new names.
The company could open a casino inside its Bayview Hotel as early as this summer, Holloway said, but will rebuild from the ground up on the south side of Beach Boulevard.
Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah's operations in the central United States, said his company will make a formal announcement of its plans in conjunction with Holloway, Gov. Haley Barbour and officials with the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
"We've greatly appreciated Mayor Holloway's positive position on the gaming industry in the future development of Biloxi," Sanfilippo said. "He's made it crystal clear that the gaming industry will be the engine for the future long-term development of Biloxi. That excites us. We're encouraged by the vision that we're seeing coming out of Biloxi. We have been working on both a short- and long-term plan for Biloxi. At this point, we're not ready to reveal those plans nor associate a time frame or set of dollars potentially to be spent in Biloxi. But having said that, we do plan on making a significant investment in Biloxi."
Biloxi, which was home to 13 casinos before Hurricane Katrina, could in five to 10 years have between 15 and 18 casinos, the mayor said.
"That's going to be the tide that lifts all the boats in the city of Biloxi -- the gambling industry," Holloway said.
But the mayor worries that inflated property prices could hold back redevelopment in interior areas of the peninsula, including apartments and other affordable housing.
"Now, everybody thinks they have casino land," Holloway said.
Condominium projects are being proposed in East Biloxi, on Back Bay along the Strip where mom-and-pop motels and souvenir shops operated before the hurricane, and downtown at the old Dees Chevrolet site.
The city is working to keep the shrimping industry from being displaced as seafood processors on Back Bay sell out to condominium developers.
Shrimpers, many of whom are Vietnamese, need a place to dock their boats and sell their catches.
"If they don't have a place to dock, they're not going to come back," Holloway said. "I don't want that to happen. The Vietnamese community is an important part of Biloxi."
The city continues to operate in the black. Biloxi will receive $10 million in business interruption insurance to offset the money lost in casino revenue because of the hurricane. The city took the policy out in June and had paid only $93,000 in premiums, the mayor said.
The city also had money in the bank because it has set aside $700,000 for the past four years and has frozen funds earmarked for big capital projects. The City Council passed a bare-bones budget after the hurricane that had a hiring freeze and several cutbacks, including the $2 million the city normally distributes to social service organizations each year.
Tom Wilemon can be reached at 896-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (c) 2006, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.
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