Treasure Bay Plans For A Move On Land

Bernie Burkholder walked into a Treasure Bay ballroom that used to host conventions. He looked at a huge hotel in the east wing of that room and said, "That was a solid cinder block wall." The hotel wall was no match for Hurricane Katrina.

Burkholder was in the hotel when the second floor crumbled. The mess Katrina left behind shut down his resort -- but only temporarily.

"We're demolishing and we're looking to get a roofer in here, and glass back in her and get her buttoned up," the casino executive said.

The quicker that's done, the faster Burkholder can turn his convention space north of Highway 90 into a shore side casino. He pointed out that "everything on this floor from the back wall of this tower out through here is a legal gaming site."

Legal as of last week, when the legislature approved on shore gaming in Harrison and Hancock Counties.

"You have to have some vision," Burkholder said.

His vision turns the first two floors of his hotel into a larger casino than he had out on the water. The on shore space will be 108,000 square feet.

"We're probably good for five or six years with this kind of square footage," he said.

Burkholder knew his pirate ship barge stood little chance of surviving a wicked hurricane like Katrina. It ended up beached, well west of its docks. And the facility had huge gashes throughout it.

Burkholder also knew the only way he could reopen was if the legislature moved south Mississippi casinos 800 feet inland. Lawmakers obliged. Now, it's the industry's responsibility to rebuild, and put thousands of casino employees back to work.

"They need to see the cavalry, the rebuilding cavalry show up," he said. "That's where I come in. I look forward to that. And I'm trying to get to that point sooner rather than later."

The governor still must sign the on shore legislation. That ceremony should take place in a matter of days. After that, Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis must hold public hearings to rezone the inland properties where casinos now have permission to move.