Biloxi leaders want to change tax breaks for businesses

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The news just keeps getting better and better for developer Chris Ferrara. He just announced a deal with Warner Hospitality out of Las Vegas to build the Biloxi Boardwalk Resort and Casino.

The plans include a 350 to 500 room casino-hotel resort with a large convention center.

Tuesday, the Biloxi City Council approved multi-year property tax breaks for Ferrara's current developments the Biloxi Boardwalk Marina and The Hook Up Restaurant. As far as the tax breaks go, Ferrara may have lucked out.

Biloxi City Council members said the 100 percent tax break they're giving to Ferrara may be the last of its kind. Council leaders said in the past, the city may have acted too hastily. From now on they'll likely be doing things differently.

City leaders call The Hook Up Restaurant and Biloxi Boardwalk Marina bright spots in a Point Cadet area that's still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

"They came into a blighted area, and in that blighted area they made it boom. I mean it's an exceptional business," said Councilman Felix Gines. "We want to inspire other businesses to come in."

The council approved Ferrara's request for two separate 100 percent tax abatements. The tax breaks run for six years for the restaurant and five years for the boat shed. During the debate, some council members wanted the tax breaks to start at 100 percent the first year then taper down. Councilman Dixie Newman disagreed.

"We should give him what we gave everybody else. To me, it seems like a slap in the face to say 'sorry, we're going to change the rules on you before we even told you," said Newman.

Many council members said future developers may be playing by different rules.

"I think in the future we'll probably start stair stepping," said Councilman George Lawrence. "We have to have enough for the city to take in revenue to have economic development, so we still have to provide everything for the taxpayers."

"We need to look at it so it's fair for the business. So in their first few years, they're getting a tremendous boost. Then as it graduates down, they're becoming successful and they're becoming accommodated to the market, we start to recover some of those tax dollars so that we can provide the services and run the city appropriately," said Councilman Kenny Glavan.

Some leaders said it's important to stay flexible.

"Once the excitement is created, then we can call our own number, but right now when you have blighted areas you have no action for five, six, ten years," said Gines. "We need to do something to get it started."

Ferrara told WLOX News the council made a great decision to approve the tax abatement at 100 percent, and he says it shows the city is moving forward with economic development.

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