Casinos ready to expand with road in East Biloxi

August 20, 2013
Sun Herald

Margaritaville plans hotel tower; Ferrara plans new casino, hotel, convention center

BILOXI -- The extension of Back Bay Boulevard to Fifth Street won't quite complete "the loop" around East Biloxi but it will be enough for casino developers to invest millions in the city.

City Council members heard a proposal Tuesday for using $5 million from the Mississippi Development Authority to complete Phase I of the road construction. They also heard about a $200 million casino project at Biloxi Boardwalk and a $50 million-$60 million hotel tower at Margaritaville Casino.

"Access is everything," said John Cary, managing director of Margaritaville. He said the investment group that took over at the casino is well capitalized and plans to build "at least a couple-hundred-room hotel" in Phase I. He said they are meeting with banks and finalizing design plans. "We should be done in about 60 days," he said.

Eventually, the owners want to build a water feature, restaurants and retail and upgrade the entire Margaritaville property to have a Miami Beach feel, he said.

Chris Ferrara, one of the largest landholders in Biloxi, said he is prepared to donate 66,000 square feet of his land for the connector road that will extend Back Bay Boulevard to near his proposed casino resort at Biloxi Boardwalk on Eighth Street and on to Margaritaville on Fifth Street.

The land he will donate has a value of between $600,000 and $1 million, he said.

Ferrara already has built Biloxi Boardwalk Marina and the Hook Up Restaurant and said with the new access he is ready to invest $200 million more to build what he describes as a "compound." In the 185,000-square-foot former Heinz plant, he plans a casino, convention center and hotel. Also planned are a pet hotel, an outdoor amphitheater and RV park, which he said are amenities that will bring people to the city and entice them to stay longer.

"In the long run, I think that the whole area will develop and benefit," Ferrara said.

Kathy Gelston, chief financial officer for the Mississippi Development Authority, said the state will commit $5 million from the Economic Development Highway Program, which is intended to build roads to support development. She said the fund was used for the Nissan plant and in other areas where there was an investment of at least $70 million.

"The city of Biloxi has investment lined up to meet the requirements of this program," she said.

Only one city hasn't seen the $70 million in development after the infrastructure was built, and she said the repayment plan was spread out over 10 years.

Jerry Creel, community development director, said investors are ready to spend but want at least a commitment to finishing the loop to provide access to these east-end properties.

He said money is available to begin, and when more is available the road will connect to U.S. 90 at Pine Street east of the Grand Casino Biloxi. Creel said it is part of the city's 2009 comprehensive plan.

Councilman George Lawrence said the plans are "huge for the city of Biloxi. These are the things we are looking for."

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