Despite delays, Harrah's boss "very passionate" about Margaritaville

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Harrah's central division president still sees a day when Margaritaville will be an important part of Biloxi's shoreline.  However, John Payne has no idea when that day will be.  Payne sat down with WLOX News on Wednesday and discussed Margaritaville, and other issues pertaining to Grand Casino Biloxi.

John Payne says he is passionate about the Margaritaville project.  But he doesn't expect any announcements about when construction will resume for another six to nine months.

"The core of Margaritaville is going to be and what we announced is still there," he said.

But at the moment, the core has no life.  Cranes used to hoist Margaritaville construction materials haven't moved in months.  Contractors who started pouring the base of the waterfront resort have disappeared. And Payne has no idea when they're coming back.

"So to your question about time frame, we just have to wait and see," he said.

These are unusual times around the Grand Biloxi property because since Katrina, Payne says the management here has had to change how it thinks.  Payne admits a resort that was a market leader before the storm now ranks in the lower third in both size and in revenue.

"Unfortunately we've had to downsize the business, as many have in the Biloxi market to match the staffing levels to the volumes we now see," he said.

However, the central division president says Harrah's Entertainment remains committed to its Biloxi resort, and to the people who work there.

"There's still a great opportunity to build a world class facility there," said Payne.  "The question is when do the markets open.  When is the right time to do it?"

That commitment extends to the property across the street, where Margaritaville and its license to chill will ultimately arrive -- just not in 2010 like signs on the property currently announce.

"We love the project.  We love the location.  It's a matter of what are the new financings for it.  And we continue to work on that," said Payne.  "We are passionate about the Margaritaville project."

The original Margaritaville design included a hotel, a casino, and retail shops all on the south side of Highway 90.  Payne wouldn't say if the project would ever be scaled back.

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