Margaritaville marks Year One Saturday

Margaritaville, Biloxi’s family-oriented resort that gave new meaning to “gaming,” marks its first anniversary this weekend, and, don’t look now, but the excitement over the first year has spawned three other non-casino hotels construction on the Biloxi beachfront.

“It’s been overwhelming,” Margaritaville’s Cono Caranna says of year one at the Jimmy Buffett-themed resort. “We are happy with the response from the community, and, more importantly, we’re bringing new people to the Coast. We hear from people all the time that this is their first stop on their vacation or their last on the way home. We’re growing the market, and our ultimate goal is to make this their destination.”

The resort create a stir from the moment it opened, with its 40-foot, two-story Volcano Rock Climbing Wall, Sky Trail and Sky Tykes ropes courses, the nation’s first indoor zip-line roller coaster, two multi-game golf simulators, six lanes of boutique bowling and hundreds of arcade games, a 450-foot Lazy River, two water slides, swim up bar, lounge pool, Splash Pad and rope traverse.

And now Margaritaville has a day of activities planned for Saturday to mark its one-year anniversary.

“Real-life” pirates will be appearing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a Silly Scoops party from 1 to 3 p.m., and a cake-cutting ceremony at 3 p.m . with 300 pieces of cake for guests.

During the evening, from 8 to midnight, locals can buy a $15 wristband for access to the pool and water playground area, which is normally reserved exclusive for hotel guests. Children 5 and younger will be admitted for free.

A fireworks show begins at 8:30 p.m and the tribute group “Jimmy Buffet Way” and The Castaways will be playing on the pool deck from 9 p.m. to midnight.


Meanwhile, down the boulevard

Caranna says architects and engineers are continuing to work on designs and plans for Phase 2, which was announced earlier this year as a second and third hotel, and an amusement park. No date has been announced for the start up of construction.

However, that same Margaritaville team, which made its tourism debut with the upscale restoration of The White House Hotel, is also now working on turning the former Santa Maria retirement home into the Watermark, a 154-room, all-suites hotel, a $12 million investment that will also feature a restaurant specializing in fresh-caught seafood, and a lounge, while creating 70 permanent jobs. No word on an opening date, “but it’s going to something special,” Caranna says.

A few miles west on Beach Boulevard, site work has begun on two more hotels: Hilton Garden Inn, a 100-room destination east of the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, and the 67-suite La Quinta, which will be situated on an oak-dotted, beachfront site between Hopkins Boulevard and Seal Avenue.
Also under construction or breaking ground soon: a new Mugshots Bar and Grill on Main Street, Saltgrass Steakhouse Restaurant, north of the Golden Nugget, and South Port Line Restaurant on Howard Avenue.  Further west on Beach Boulevard, Gulf Beach RV Resort is under construction at a beachfront site west of the Coast Coliseum.


‘They’re bullish on Biloxi’

But it’s the hotel rooms that captures the attention of tourism authority Linda Hornsby, who said the addition of more than 300 rooms in the Biloxi market at the moment is great news.

“This means developers have become bullish on this area and want to be a part of what is happening here,” said Linda Hornsby.

Biloxi is host to 7,312 hotel rooms, with 4,923 of those rooms at casino resorts and 2,389 stand-alone rooms.

The current construction is not lost on Hornsby.

“Clearly, this is the most concentrated growth since the Casino hotel developments in the ’90’s, which was sparked by the casino industry,” Hornsby said. “Ironically, though, in Biloxi the growth rate we’ve seen since Katrina has been higher in the non-casino developments, which are now 81 percent of what they were pre-Katrina, vs. the casino rooms, which are 78.2 percent of what they were pre-Katrina.

“Coastwide, the non-casino rooms are 90 percent of what they were pre-Katrina, compared to the casino rooms at 85 percent of pre-Katrina numbers.”


Family fun and diversity are the key

Hornsby, echoing a familiar refrain, said for Biloxi to sustain the growth in development, more family attractions are needed.

“There have been some significant strides made recently,” she said, “but we still have far too many vacant and undeveloped lots on the beachfront, which is the face of tourism.  And, we absolutely need more conventions, which have a huge economic impact upon all components of tourism – the air traffic, hotels, restaurants, retail and attractions, which encompass a variety of segments, including museums, family facilities, activities, charter boat fishing and golf.

“Conventioneers return with their families once they have experienced all this area has to offer. We just need more conventions to make that happen.”


Margaritaville news and notes

The photos: This time a year ago, the city Facebook page was all aflutter with the publishing of a 62-image gallery called  “Your peek inside Margaritaville.” The posting generated 9,470 new likes for the city Facebook page, while the gallery itself spawned a dramatic 2.7 million engagements (a 11,000 percent increase over the previous week’s traffic). It was shared 14,000 times, eliciting well over 2,500 comments. See the gallery yourself by clicking here.

Back in time: One year ago today, the “City Desk” podcast visited Margaritaville to hear the buzz firsthand from spokesperson Cono Caranna. To listen to the program, click here.

Margaritaville online: To visit the Margaritaville website, click here.