Harrah's Plans $704 Million Margaritaville Resort

By: Ryan Nakashima
By: Ryan Nakashima

Casino giant Harrah's Entertainment Inc. said Tuesday it planned to open a Margaritaville Casino & Resort in Biloxi, Miss., with songwriter Jimmy Buffett, which it said would be the largest development in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Work on the $704 million project is expected to begin this summer on a 46-acre site south of U.S. Highway 90 in Biloxi. The site formerly was occupied by Grand Casino and Casino Magic.

Buffett, the chief "parrothead" known for his lazy-day beach songs such as "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise," said he grew up on the Gulf Coast and as a native of Pascagoula, Miss., was a survivor of storms himself.

"One of the essential elements of life along the Gulf Coast is the Creole belief that hard work and good fun go hand in hand," Buffett said in a statement. "So, with that in mind I say, 'Let's get to work and let's let the good times roll again."'

The property will have 798 hotel rooms, a full-service spa, a pool with tropical landscaping, a casino, and retail and meeting space. The project is expected to be finished in early 2010.

Harrah's, which is being bought by private equity firms in a $17.1 billion deal, said the project would be the first phase of a development that could cost more than $1 billion.

"We now have 80 contiguous acres on the water," Harrah's chief
executive Gary Loveman told The Associated Press. "You look out over the beach and there's a tremendous footprint that's completely
clear that you can put stuff on. That could include more hotels, a condo development, further retail or a theater."

Planning for the development was born in the wake of the storm and came as the state under Gov. Haley Barbour moved to allow casinos to be built on land instead of riverboats, executives said.

"It was one of the silver linings in a pretty big cloud," said Harrah's chief financial officer Charles Atwood.

The announcement also underlined the company's point that business was continuing as usual under the new prospective owners, private equity firms Apollo Management Group and Texas Pacific Group.

Loveman said that despite the company's added debt burden, estimated to double to $21 billion after the buyout closes later this year, the new owners were wholeheartedly behind the project.

"These guys have enormous amounts of capital to invest," Loveman said. "Their challenge is not to reduce capital, it's to place capital."

He said other projects, such as the master planned redevelopments for Las Vegas and Atlantic City, are still in the works.

"There's an antiquated view that these deals mean less of everything, and that's just not true," Loveman said. "It's how do we do more, not how do we do less. They're extremely enthusiastic about it, whether it's Las Vegas or Macau or pick your market."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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