Biloxi Says No to Golden Nugget - Monday 6th of February 2006

BILOXI, Mississippi Plans by Houston-based Landry's Restaurants to bring a Golden Nugget-brand casino to hurricane-ravaged Biloxi, Miss., were rejected this week by the city's elected leaders.

Landry's Restaurant offered to lease the land for a Golden Nugget Casino, but the Biloxi City Council rejected its offer this week after the two sides could not agree on a price.

The City Council is now looking at Biloxi-based Isle of Capri to develop the site on 18 acres north of Highway 90 in the Point Cadet area on Biloxi's eastern edge. The land is near the destroyed Highway 90 bridge that connects Biloxi with Ocean Springs.

The company, which has first rights to develop the site, has discussed putting a new 2,500-room hotel casino on the north side of U.S. 90 that would be more than three times the size of the company's existing Biloxi resort.

Landry's, which bought the Golden Nugget casinos in downtown and Laughlin for $345 million, had proposed spending $400 million to build the Biloxi Boardwalk, which would have included a 60,000- square-foot Golden Nugget casino, a 600-room hotel and a marina for 100 boats.

Landry's said it would build a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel, thrill rides, an aquarium and restaurants, telling city leaders the proposed project would be similar to the company's amusement attractions in Houston and Galveston, Texas.

The City Council unanimously rejected Landry's, however, because they didn't think the lease offered enough.

Landry's had offered to pay the city minimum base rent of $2.5 million and 4 percent of annual gross revenue above $62.5 million. Council members said the offer amounted to an overall cap of approximately $3.3 million.

"It was a great project and I would have loved to have seen it happen," Councilman George Lawrence told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. "Anybody who looked at the project loved it. You still have to do the best things for the citizens. I don't think the offer was enough."

Jeff Cantwell, senior vice president of development for Landry's, said the company remains interested in the Biloxi site.

The Golden Nugget would have been the first new casino to be announced since Hurricane Katrina destroyed 13 Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos, eliminating 17,000 jobs and wiping annual gaming revenues of $1.2 billion off the books.

Three casinos will reopen in Biloxi this month; the Imperial Palace on Thursday, the Isle of Capri on Dec. 26 and the Palace Casino on Dec. 30.

Separately, an agreement between operators of the destroyed Copa Casino and the State Port at Gulfport that would allow the casino to rebuild closer to U.S. 90 has been put on hold by the state.

The Mississippi Development Authority, which has veto authority over any project on the state-owned land, has not signed off on the agreement.

The privately owned Copa, one of two casinos located in Gulfport, was destroyed by the hurricane and subsequently demolished.

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