|By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi,
Miss.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 28, 2007 - BILOXI -- A tropical breeze blew into Biloxi this week when the City Council approved plans for Margaritaville Casino.
"Pending permit approvals, groundbreaking on Margaritaville in Biloxi will be in August," said Jacqueline Peterson, senior corporate manager of communications for Harrah's Entertainment.
Harrah's, which owns the Grand Biloxi and Casino Magic, is building the $700 million resort on the beach in partnership with Pascagoula-born, world-renowned singer Jimmy Buffett. The resort is targeted to open in 2010.
Councilman George Lawrence still has questions about traffic but made the vote unanimous to approve an amended master plan and conditional use for the resort. Margaritaville Casino cleared both the Biloxi Architectural Review Commission and Planning Commission on July 5.
Lawrence is sure the resort will be popular and he is concerned traffic will back up on U.S. 90. Harrah's is negotiating with the city to close Oak Street in exchange for building a boat ramp on Kuhn Street, and Lawrence thinks the boat trailers will cause even more traffic problems. He also went on record against the company building any parking garage directly on U.S. 90.
When Margaritaville is built, there will be less casino space in the area than before Hurricane Katrina, said Jonathan Kiser of Neel-Schaffer in Gulfport, which did traffic projections. There will be four signals on three westbound lanes and four eastbound lanes, he said, and multiple entry points into the resort. The parking garage at Grand Biloxi will be connected to Margaritaville Casino by two pedestrian walkways over U.S. 90.
Buffett is designing Margaritaville Casino around his memories of growing up on the Coast and said, "I plan to be pretty active in this." It's the first time the Margaritaville theme that Buffett has used to create casual restaurants around the world will be translated into a casino.
The investment is the largest in South Mississippi since Katrina, and Harrah's is also expanding worldwide.
Peterson said the company just announced a $1 billion expansion of their flagship resort, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Harrah's also recently announced new hotels at Harrah's Atlantic City and Harrah's New Orleans and an expansion of Horseshoe Casino in Indiana. Already the largest casino company in the world, Harrah's continues to develop its brand abroad. The purchase of London Clubs International included nine casinos in the U.K. plus three in Egypt and one in South Africa. The company is also building a casino in Spain and is looking to build in Slovenia.
"We're always looking for opportunities," said Peterson.
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.
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