July 23, 2008

Don’t Worry, Margaritaville Will Be Built, Work Just Slowing Down

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jul. 23--BILOXI -- The cranes were motionless Tuesday afternoon, but Harrah's Entertainment says it's not stopping work on the Margaritaville Casino, just slowing it down.

The credit crunch has squeezed even the world's largest casino company and Harrah's put an end to rumors about the Margaritaville building site in East Biloxi by releasing details.

"Over the next few weeks, residents of Biloxi will notice less activity and fewer workers at the Margaritaville work site," vice president of communications Marybel Batjer said in an e-mailed statement. "Rest assured that Harrah's is not canceling the project. We still believe in the Margaritaville concept, and we remain committed to our vision for the property. This is a project that we studied extensively, and we believe that it still has a great potential to benefit the Biloxi market and our company.

"We simply need to adjust the plan for the development to better align with the economic environment, market conditions on the Gulf Coast and the current financing environment."

Karen Sock, general manager of Harrah's Grand Biloxi Casino, met with City Council members before their meeting Tuesday and told them she doesn't know how the construction slowdown will affect the target completion of 2010.

Harrah's is teaming with entertainer and Pascagoula native Jimmy Buffett to build the nearly $1 billion resort with about 800 hotel rooms, a casino, a spa and more than 50 shops and restaurants. Yates Construction began work last summer and the skeleton already stretches along the beach from the Grand Biloxi to the former Casino Magic tower. Workers were on site Tuesday.

The news about Margaritaville, coupled with the Mississippi Gaming Commission denying South Beach Casino last week, prompted the council to speculate on the future of Biloxi.

George Lawrence said he'd like to see family-oriented projects in the city, but Mike Fitzpatrick said, "Take a look at what's happening in Biloxi." The city lost two billion-dollar casinos, Tivoli and now South Beach, he said, and retail development is going to D'Iberville rather than Biloxi.

"It's been tough out there since 9/11," said Ed Gemmill.

He recently closed the doors to his restaurant and said he heard J.C. Penney may move out of Edgewater Mall.

Mall management said that wasn't true.

"Penney's is here. They're not going anywhere," said Edgewater Mall manager Terry Powell, who was contacted after the meeting. "We're doing well. We're looking at new tenants right now."

Council President Bill Stallworth said the denial of South Beach was a serious blow, but he remains optimistic.

"We are looking forward to a bright future."


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