By MARY PEREZ
BILOXI — Heavy machinery this week is demolishing the foundation of what was to be a $700 million casino on the beach.
The excitement of the partnership between Harrah’s Casino and Jimmy Buffet, announced in 2007 during the real estate boom, faded in 2008 when the international financial crisis hit and construction stopped.
Jonathan Jones, Grand Biloxi general manager, announced in December that not only would the concrete and steel come down and be
added to the Katrina Reef offshore, but a boardwalk and entertainment lawn will take its place and be open to the public.
He also told the Biloxi Council the Grand Biloxi will be transformed and re-branded.
Councilman George Lawrence said he is pleased to see the old casino torn down and the changes on the way.
“I think this is going to be an awesome property,” he said. He also likes the new name, Harrah’s Gulf Coast, which Lawrence said is a brand that connects the resort to Biloxi and will bring people to the city.
Improvements will include a makeover of all the guest rooms, the casino, restaurants and pool area. Kennedy Smith, vice president of marketing at Grand Biloxi, said the investment by parent company Caesars Entertainment shows the community and customers, “This is where we’re going with this property.”
It also says something to potential investors, said Jerry Creel, Biloxi’s community development director.
“We met with half a dozen funding sources for projects in East Biloxi and at each of those meetings two things kept being brought up,” he said. The investors wanted to know when the unfinished casino would be demolished and they wanted assurances the Biloxi loop that connects most of the casinos from Beach Boulevard to the Back Bay would be extended. The demolition began Monday, he said, and Council approved a state grant that will continue the loop to Fifth Street.
Developers across the country are constantly looking for places where things are happening, Creel said, especially in a down economy. “Things are happening in Biloxi,” he said.
With the new baseball stadium, casino expansion, the renovation of White House Hotel and the announcement of a theme park, Creel said, “We just expect development to bring development.”