Hemingway developer not giving up on Gulfport project

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The man behind the Hemingway Casino project in Gulfport says his company has the money it needs to build a $130 million resort next to Jones Park. What John Paulson's group couldn't get was a 20 day extension from the Mississippi Gaming Commission to finalize its financing deal, and that's not sitting well with the group.

"It's disappointing," Paulson said to WLOX News a day after the deadline passed. "The commission came back and said they were unwilling to hear that request."

Paulson said his company secured full funding two weeks ago for what was supposed to be a casino, a 205 room hotel and three restaurants. But, the final papers haven't been signed. He thought that would be enough to meet the gaming commission's April 1 financing deadline.

"All the financing is here. Everything is ready to go," said Paulson.

Back in December, the gaming commission set the April 1 deadline, giving Paulson's team three months to get its financing lined up. If it did, it could build a smaller resort in stages.

By missing the deadline, the Hemingway project must meet the Mississippi Gaming Commission's new regulations. The casino must be larger. The hotel must have more rooms. In other words, more must be invested in the project up front.

In Hemingway's case, more means another 100 hotel rooms, and a parking garage must be added to the development, both in phase one. It's an investment of as much as $30 million on top of the $130 million Paulson's group said it secured.

"We're just going to continue to reach out to the commission and see what we can do," Paulson said. "Right now, we're at their mercy. We're 100 percent doing Gulfport. We love the project. We want to see the project happen. We believe in the community. It's a great project."

John Hairston with the Mississippi Gaming Commission said the 20 day extension wasn't granted because two primary stipulations were not met by the developer: Financing had to be complete, and multiple, past due debts had to be paid.

"We had every intention of standing by our approval, if Rotate Black stood by their commitments. Regrettably, they would not or could not do so," Hairston told WLOX News.

"Those stipulations were made crystal clear in a public meeting held in the Gulfport City Council chambers, because the Mississippi Gaming Commission wanted it very clear, publicly clear, that the ball was in Rotate Black's court to deliver on commitments made in that meeting," Hairston said.

Gaming commissioners want to see a casino on the nine-and-a-half acre site next to Jones Park.

"I hope someone will step forward with the financial wherewithal to build a casino resort at this excellent site," Hairston said. "The Mississippi Gaming Commission would be pleased to consider an application from Rotate Black or any other applicant to build a casino resort at the Gulfport Harbor, compliant with 2014 Gaming Regulations."

Paulson wants to be that developer.

"We're bullish on the market," Paulson said. "And we think a 20 day extension isn't unreasonable."

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