August 14, 2013
By Mary Perez at Sun Herald
GULFPORT -- Island View Casino opened seven years ago, and now the owners are ready to expand south of U.S. 90 with a $50 million transformation of the Grand Hotel's abandoned hotel tower into a 400-room beachfront hotel and convention center.
This is the only locally owned casino in South Mississippi. Business partners Rick Carter and Terry Green, Gulfport natives, plan to combine the land north and south of the highway into a 40-acre resort connected by a pedestrian bridge over 90.
"Now's the time, Carter said. "With this economy being like it is, we were reluctant." But with signs of improvement, he said, "we think the future is going to be a lot better than people think and we're going to be prepared for it."
Construction could start in October, said Lindsey Inman, Island View general manager, and the as-yet-unnamed tower is expected to open by summer 2015.
Management is still working with architects to design the hotel and amenities, among which will be a swimming pool and bar with views of the Gulf.
On the first floor, which is elevated above the waterfront, will be the hotel registration area, a restaurant,
a bar overlooking the beach and possibly retail. Most of the second floor will be flexible meeting space for weddings, conventions and other events. Inman said it will be the largest meeting area available in Gulfport and the western part of Harrison County.
A health club and fitness center could open in the south tower or be added to the existing hotel, he said.
"The 16-story beachfront hotel tower will offer exceptional views of the Gulf of Mexico, along with immediate access to the beach," Carter said. "Those features are a unique combination not only in our market, but also for the region."
Island View owns all its property north of U.S. 90 but leases the acreage south of the highway from the Port of Gulfport.
Mayor Billy Hewes said the expansion of Island View Casino will "ignite new development along our Gulfport shoreline." Island View provides more than 1,100 jobs and this project will add several hundred employees, providing a strong impact to Gulfport's economy, said John Kelly, the city's chief administrative officer.
"I have been wanting to do this for five years," Carter said. "It's taken us a while to really determine there was that much of a need."
He said five Mississippi banks are financing the new hotel.
Leading up to the decision to expand, Carter and Green recently added a series of amenities at Island View. They purchased the nearby Vrazel's restaurant and remodeled it into Beach Blvd Steamer and Coast Candymakers. They added the View Showroom entertainment venue, built a swimming pool with seven cabanas, updated the high-limits room, expanded Sunset Bar and Deck and created a lounge at Carter Green Steakhouse overlooking the casino floor that accommodates cocktail parties for hotel guests.
"Terry and I have been very fortunate," Carter said. They started in 1989 with the Pride of Mississippi gambling boat out of the Gulfport harbor and a cruise to nowhere. They then operated Copa Casino in Gulfport. "That ended up on Highway 90 after the storm," he said.
When Harrah's Entertainment decided not to rebuild the Grand Casino in Gulfport, Carter said, "we flew to Vegas, met with them and cut a deal." The first phase of Island View opened Sept. 18, 2006, and the second phase in May 2007.
He said they've invested $50 million since opening on the north side and now are preparing to put another $50 million into developing the south side to boost tourism.
He said the Coast casino industry should market itself as the "Vegas of the South" rather than as a beach destination. He said the Coast can't compete with the beaches on the Panhandle.
"We can compete with Southern hospitality," he said.