Two key tourism bills are on their way to Governor Barbour. One bill gives non-casino investors who develop tourism amenities a tax break. The other bill expands the definition of a hotel to include condominiums. That way, condos that act like hotels will be required to pay the same sales tax that hotels pay.
The Gulf Beach Resort was supposed to become a condominium. That was before the hurricane, and before its damage ruined those plans.
This week, a wrecking ball began knocking down one of the hotels near the Coliseum. For tourism leaders, losing the hotel hurts. But there could be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Think about how may family vacations were spent at this seven story hotel. Think about how many honeymooners, and how many VIPs rented these rooms. Now, think about where those guests are going to stay next time they make a reservation.
Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway has thought about that a lot since Katrina knocked down several of his city's hotels.
"The city of Biloxi generates a lot off of hospitality. That's our big industry," he said while standing near the shoreline.
While it's true some hotels are open again, and condos are being built, Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association director Linda Hornsby says the coast desperately needs adequate hotel space.
"This past weekend, ironically, was wonderful," Hornsby said, claiming it was one of the first good weekends the hotels that rebounded after the storm had in quite some time. "First time since Katrina that some of our especially non-casino properties had no vacancy signs up."
Demolition crews had a wrecking ball at the old Gulf Beach Resort. Tearing down the seven story hotel should take from four to six weeks.
Gulf Beach was one of at least 18 waterfront hotels, motels, and inns that Biloxi lost during Katrina.
"In a lot of those places where we had hotels, now condos are looking at that," the mayor said.
The mayor says how quickly non-condominium properties come back to life could determine how quickly Biloxi's tourism industry puts itself back together.
"It's still a long way to go to get back to where we were before," Holloway said.
The coast had close to 19,000 hotel rooms before the storm. Now, that total is closer to 12,000.
"We've got to get the people here now," said Hornsby. "But we need to prepare them for what they're going to see when they come here."
Hornsby has heard about a couple of new hotel projects. She says a Crown Plaza hotel may be built near Rodenberg Avenue in Biloxi. And a new Holiday Inn may go up on Highway 49 in Gulfport. She also expects the Gulfport Beachfront Hotel to become a Courtyard by Marriott sometime next year.
By Brad Kessie
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