BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Palace Casino is about to undergo what's been called the largest casino expansion since Katrina. When the work is done in 2011, Palace executives expect their resort to once look and feel like it did before the hurricane.
The Palace's announcement comes at a time when other expansion plans have been put on hold. Palace general manager Keith Crosby says the company is making the investment now, hoping the expanded resort opens just as the recession ends.
"The intention going forward is to regain the resort, to get the hotel segregated from the casino, to give the four diamond guest experience back to the resident hotel guest. And establish the gaming as a separate entity," said Crosby.
The Palace Casino's front desk is crammed into the corner of the east Biloxi resort. Consequently, getting luggage past slot machines is not very easy.
"Our motto with what we've got right now is do the best you can with what we've got that was left over from the storm," said Crosby.
However, his motto, and his resort, are about to be altered.
"It's three-and-a-half years of anxious waiting, wondering when, when, when, when," he said.
Despite concerns about the current economy, Palace administrators say when is now. They're ready to place another bet on south Mississippi's casino market.
"We're not going to settle for where we're at right now," Crosby said.
Between now and the spring of 2011, the Palace will undergo a 110,000 square foot transformation. A parking lot near Howard Avenue will be replaced by a new wing of the resort. Inside that wing, additional gambling space will be created. A thousand slot machines will fill the casino. To make room for the machines, the hotel check in counter will be relocated. The upstairs buffet will be expanded. A sports bar will open. And meeting space will be built, enabling the Palace to go after small convention groups.
"It shows a confidence in the market. It shows a confidence in the overall national economic rebound," said Crosby.
For Palace employees who've run a resort in somewhat confined quarters since Katrina, The expansion announcement was like hitting the jackpot.
Gregg Demers is the hotel's front desk manager.
"It certainly picked up the morale of the employees and I think it will help in the long run, for our guests and for our employees," he said.
Over the weekend, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway told WLOX News he heard about another expansion project that was ready to come out of the ground again. That project was the Margaritaville resort across from Grand Casino Biloxi. However, when WLOX contacted a spokesperson at the Grand, we were told nothing could be said about Margaritaville, because there was no additional information to release.
In May, Grand's regional boss said his company was still passionate about the Margaritaville project. However, John Payne said getting construction started again was "a matter of what are the financings for it. And we continue to work on that."