Supervisors Vote For $72 Million Expansion

It all came down to money when Harrison County Supervisors voted Monday in favor of expanding the current coliseum and convention center.

This had been an east versus west battle over where to build more convention space. Casino operators on the east end of town even commissioned a study to see if it was more feasible to build closer to the bigger hotels.

There were three east Biloxi sites named for consideration. One is along Highway 90 and Holley Street. Another is land owned or controlled by the Boys and Girls Club, the Grand Hotel and the Isle of Capri. And the other is 60 acres east of Oak Street adjacent to the CSX right of way.

A separate facility would cost at least $30 million more, and the supervisors couldn't get an answer as to who would pay for it.

The study concluded building a second convention facility in east Biloxi closer to the bigger hotels would cost about $100 million. That price tag does not include the cost of buying the land.

Consultant John Kaatz told the supervisors that even if a separate events center was built, the Coliseum should not be ignored.

"Even if you build a convention center of the size you're talking about at the hotel base, that coliseum site is still a major engine for the community and should be invested in," Kaatz said.

Coliseum Director Bill Holmes says the $72 million expansion is a must to book more business. No one spoke from the casinos that commissioned the east Biloxi study. But organizations like the hotel lodging association, the gaming association and the restaurant association took no stand on the issue.

"It is vital that we have all of the major stakeholders in agreement before we make a 75 to 100 million dollar decision. It would be much more advantageous for the Coast to go to Jackson, standing shoulder to shoulder, and say to them, 'This is our plan'," Linda Hornsby with the Hotel and Lodging Association said.

Along with the cost difference between the two plans, Supervisors Connie Rockco and William Martin are concerned about the division over the expansion.

"Are these people who say they haven't made a decision and don't have a recommendation at this point. If in fact we do a resolution and go to Jackson, are they going to be objecting to it," District 4 Supervisor William Martin said.

"You can't come to a body, a governing body, without making your commitment for or against a particular resolution that we're going to vote on like 72 million dollars," District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco said.

The supervisor's vote was unanimous is supporting the coliseum expansion. Their resolution asks state lawmakers for public and private legislation to allow the supervisors to issue $72 million in general obligation bonds. That will be repaid by an additional three percent hotel tax.

Representatives of the casinos that asked for the separate study left the meeting without commenting on the supervisors vote.