East Biloxi Casino Operator Talks - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

03/09/04

East Biloxi Casino Operator Talks

Keith Crosby was one of the Biloxi casino operators who paid for a convention center location study. He wanted to see the economics of building a complex closer to his resort. "By no means is anybody in east Biloxi trying to move the convention center down here," Crosby said, while sitting on the back deck of his resort. "What we're saying is let's be very careful before we make a $72 million decision."

Crosby pointed out that when the Coliseum first opened, it was near the Broadwater, the Sheraton and the Hilton, three of the top hotel properties of the era. But today, the bigger hotels are in east Biloxi. That's why the casinos wanted to see if a convention center down here made sense. "Essentially I think the issue needs more debate, more decision, more analysis," said Crosby. "We need to all get on the same page on this one. There has to be a harmony coming from the coast to Jackson."

At Tuesday's Harrison County Tourism Commission meeting, Coliseum director Bill Holmes sang a similar tune about harmony. "We hope that we can get together and all join together and work this legislation through," Holmes said.

In Jackson, the house and senate local and private committees will initially consider the tax increase bill that funds the convention center expansion.  The house vice chairman of that committee is Joey Fillingane.  He said approving the bill "will depend on the coast delegation.  I think you have a much better shot on the house side that you do on the senate side."

Tommy Gollott sits on the senate's local and private committee.  Despite the fact that his committee chairman won't let tax bills come out of his committee, the Biloxi senator is optimistic.  "I'll do everything I can to make it happen," he said.

In the last two days, Holmes got tourism commissioners and supervisors to endorse his expansion plan. The current convention center would double in size, and a three percent hotel tax would pay for it.

But the plan never got support from the casino association, or the hotel association. Linda Hornsby represents the hotels. She said her group wasn't consulted during the expansion talk. "Room taxes, they have too high of an impact on our industry to go forward without input and without our support," she said.

Since Crosby's casino has hotel room, he understands Hornsby's argument. "This affects everybody," he said. "And it's a tax issue that affects every single operator of a hotel or a motel on the coast right now."

At the tourism meeting, Holmes defended his plan. "You know, we know that this expansion and this renovation are critical for our facility and this area," he said.

The area Holmes referred to was the 66 acre Coliseum complex, several miles west of the east Biloxi casinos.

The convention center study concluded that expanding the coliseum site would work if a 500 room hotel opened next to it. Several tourism people have questioned whether a flagship hotel would make that sort of investment without a casino being attached to it.

by Brad Kessie

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