Harrah’s, Buffett unveil plans for $700M Margaritaville Casino & Resort

Harrah’s Entertainment and world-renowned singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett joined Mayor A.J. Holloway and Gov. Haley Barbour this morning to unveil plans for Margaritaville Casino & Resort, a $700-million-plus investment that will be on Casino Row in Biloxi and represents the single largest investment in Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina. The company expects this to be the first phase of a development that may cost more than $1 billion.

Construction of Margaritaville is expected to begin this summer with a target completion date of Spring 2010.

“I am privileged to announce Harrah’s plans for Margaritaville Casino & Resort in Biloxi,” said Gary Loveman, Harrah’s chairman, chief executive officer and president. “Along with Jimmy Buffett, we plan to develop the next generation destination resort on the Gulf Coast. With this additional $700 million dollar project supporting Mississippi’s vital tourism industry, Harrah’s financial commitment to the region will be nearing $1 billion, including the company’s hurricane relief and recovery efforts for our employees.”

“I have seen the best and the worst of times along Mississippi Sound, and as a survivor of storms myself, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude and good fortune to be part of the re-birth of the region by joining forces with Harrah’s to bring the Margaritaville Casino & Resort ‘Down around Biloxi,’” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett said before this morning’s conference. “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. So, with that in mind I say, ‘Let’s get to work and let’s let the good times roll again.”

Margaritaville Casino & Resort will be developed on the 46-acre site south of U.S. 90 in Biloxi, which was formerly occupied by Grand Casino and Casino Magic.

The project will include:

• Approximately 100,000 square feet of gaming space;

• 250,000 square feet of retail space;

• Approximately 66,000 square feet of convention space;

• 420 new hotel rooms;

• 378 renovated hotel rooms;

• Pool deck area with cabanas, bar, and tropical landscaping; and

• Full-service spa;

“We’ve come a long way since Aug. 29, 2005,” Holloway told this gathered at LB’s at the Grand Biloxi this morning, “and today represents a huge milestone in the long-term recovery of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

The mayor noted that Harrah’s reiterated its commitment to Biloxi just days after Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005. “Harrah’s is following through on that commitment – and today gives us an idea of what we can expect from the world’s largest gaming company.”

And with the Buffett connection, Holloway noted, Harrah’s is using a Coast native to reach into Biloxi’s past. Said the mayor: “As popular as Jimmy Buffet is today, some of you in the audience may not know that he has a special connection with Biloxi. While going to college a few miles north of here, Jimmy cut his musical teeth playing in nightclubs a few miles down the beach here in Biloxi.”

Quipped Holloway to an laughing audience: “He came back anyway.”

“Seriously,” the mayor continued, “I think Jimmy Buffett knows the Biloxi of the past, and he obviously sees the immense promise in the Biloxi of the future.”

The Harrah’s project will also involve another Pascagoula native, Harrah’s vice chairman Charles Atwood.

“Margaritaville Casino & Resort represents Harrah’s ongoing commitment to, and vision for, Biloxi, the tourism industry in Mississippi, and the regeneration of the entire Gulf Coast,” Atwood said. “This development will include many exciting and diverse dining, entertainment and retail experiences that will be unique to the Gulf Coast region. We are pleased that Simon Property Group, the largest retail real estate company in North America, will be partnering with us to deliver such a significant retail development to the Gulf Coast area.”

“We’re delighted to join Harrah’s and Jimmy Buffett in today’s announcement and bring a first-class retail center to complement the hotel and casino and continue the recovery on the Gulf Coast,” said David Simon, chief executive officer, Simon Property Group, Inc. “We expect that there will be a multitude of restaurant and entertainment options in our portion of the development that will only add to visitors’ enjoyment of the Margaritaville Casino & Resort.”

Added John Payne, president of Harrah’s Central Division: “Harrah’s is bringing together unique and energizing parties as it takes the leadership role in the redevelopment of the Mississippi Gulf Coast with the size and scope of this project. The heart and soul of Margaritaville Casino & Resort, Pascagoula, Miss. native Jimmy Buffett, is a world class talent unto himself. Along with Simon Property Group’s expertise in retail real estate operations, Margaritaville Casino & Resort promises to be a destination resort which will be amongst the finest in the Southeastern United States.”

Online video of Margaritaville announcement

To see unedited video of the 30-minute announcement, which closes with a two-song set by Jimmy Buffett, click here.

‘It was a year ago this month’

During his remarks at the press conference this morning, Mayor Holloway recalled the last explosive announcement at the Grand site.

“It was a year ago this month that Harrah’s called me down here to push two buttons and blow up a hotel,” Holloway said, adding with a chuckle: “This morning, I was afraid to push the button on the elevator.”

To read about the implosion of the Grand’s Island View Hotel and to see video of the May 21, 2006 event, click here.

Harrah’s in Mississippi

Harrah’s Entertainment owns branded gaming and resort destinations in Tunica and Biloxi. The following represents an overview of the corporation’s economic impact to the state:

• 2006 wages paid in-state $139.8 million

• Paid more than $113 million in gaming, sales, employment, and other taxes for operations in the state; and

• Employs more than 4,700 associates at four properties.

• Harrah’s has exhibited its corporate social responsibility to the state of Mississippi through a wide range of activities.