Abandoned tower south of U.S. 90 will become resort’s next hotel

By MARY PEREZ — meperez@sunherald.com

GULFPORT — Island View Casino owners are ready to refurbish the hotel tower south of U.S. 90 after signing a 50-year lease Thursday with the Mississippi state Port Authority.

“We’re starting demolition (of the interior) within the next week or so,” said Rick Carter, who owns the casino resort with childhood friend Terry Green. “It’s going to be phenomenal.”

The agreement begins with a 10-year lease and has multiple extensions. Carter said 35 years remained on the lease assumed when he and Green bought the former Grand Casino from Harrah’s Entertainment after Hurricane Katrina. That lease was for a casino barge rather than an onshore casino, which

legislation permitted after Katrina.

The new lease removes the confusion and helps with financing and future development of the resort, Carter said.

The terms require Island View to invest at least $30 million on the site south of U.S. 90 where the tower and a parking garage sit on 15 acres.

Carter announced in August that Island View would spend $50 million to restore the tower on the beach.

The building, which has sat abandoned since the storm in 2005, will become a hotel with 400 rooms, conference space with meeting rooms, a swimming pool overlooking the beach, a restaurant with water views, a lounge and gym.

The 16-story hotel will have an art deco look reminiscent of South Beach in Miami, complete with colored lights at night, Carter said.

“It’s been a dream of ours to do this,” Green said. “The timing seems to be right.”

The largest of the hotel’s 56 suites will be 834 square feet, and the suites will be configured so they can be combined for larger groups. Small balconies on the south side will be enclosed to create additional space.

“That whole south wall will be glass,” said Lindsey Inman, Island View general manager.

The additional hotel rooms at Island View will bring new people and investment to the city, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said. “It’s a lot to get excited about.”

Jim Simpson, president of the board for the port, said Gov. Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Development Authority helped put together the lease to create new jobs at the hotel, along with convention space and more hotel rooms in Gulfport.

In July, port officials signed a lease with DuPont for up to 60 years. Simpson said although no deal is signed yet for the 50-acre site being created at the port, “we’ve got a lot of people interested.”

Said Jack Norris, president of the Gulf Coast Business Council: “It is very significant that the port has secured long-term leases with two critical tenants this year and the agreements include over $120 million in new capital investment.”

It’s also important to bring 400 new hotel rooms to the market, Norris said, as South Mississippi is still down 6,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality and 25 percent of its capacity of hotel rooms since Katrina.

With the baseball stadium coming to Biloxi and several other Coast casinos investing in new hotel rooms, “we’re starting to see pieces fall in place,” he said.

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