Developer Has Big Plans For A Casino In Old Town Bay St. Louis

An ambitious hotel, retail, and casino project on the beach front in Old Town Bay St. Louis has the town buzzing.

Hancock County developer Hester Plauche' and his Louisiana business partner want to build a multi-million dollar casino development. It's a project they say would bring back downtown shop owners displaced by Katrina, as well as return most of the historic architecture lost during the storm.

Under the plan, two historic buildings, the old A&G Theater and the original Sea Coast Echo building, would be renovated to become what the developer calls "the crown jewels of the casino project." The 30-40,000 square foot casino would be surrounded by restaurants and retail shops.

"The casino is going to be different from any of the casinos around here. We're talking about a boutique type of casino, which we define as a casino without glitz and glitter and neon on the outside," Plauche' said.

The goal is to breathe new life into a storm ravaged old town.

"Each one of the merchants that were downtown in Old Town will have the opportunity to come back at a very subsidized rate for their rent. We feel like this is the only way that our artists and crafts people can get back into business," Plauche' said.

"The casino is going to have no food service on its own. All food service will be done by local restaurants who want to come back."

Plans also call for bringing back the old Pickwich Hotel which burned down in 1917. The entire project will encompass three city blocks along Beach Boulevard and calls for a four story parking garage at the end of Court Street.

"That's going to have shops in the bottom part of it. The building will not look like a parking garage. We don't want ramps showing and cement showing."

A gazebo and an outdoor amphitheater are slated to go up on the beach side of the road. Andora McNair-Smith has owned a shop in Old Town for 14 years.

"Everybody didn't really want these types of developments, but right now I feel it's very needed, very necessary," Smith said. "We really need to move on and move up. And the plans I saw were very tasteful and upscale."

"We're talking about a $100 million project," Plauche' said. "The funding is in place, we're just waiting to get the approval."

That will have to come from city leaders, along with a zoning change from "Commercial" to "Casino Resort District."

Plauche's business partner Pete Vicari is a well-known Louisiana contractor famous for restoring old buildings. The duo will unveil their casino project to the Bay St. Louis City Council during its board meeting Tuesday night.

by Al Showers