Margaritaville To Become A Neighbor Of Grand Biloxi

All those rumors we've heard for years about Jimmy Buffett opening a Margaritaville casino in Biloxi have finally come true. Buffett and Harrah's Entertainment announced a new partnership that opens in 2010. The $700 million expansion at Harrah's Grand Biloxi property will include a Margaritaville Casino and Resort.

Harrah's announcement reinforces a post Katrina promise it made to reinvest in Biloxi. And it brings some additional star power to the Biloxi casino market.

That star is Jimmy Buffett.  He was introduced at a Grand Biloxi news conference at 9:30. He spoke for a few minutes.  And then, he grabbed his guitar, and played two songs.  His opening song "It's My Job" had some fitting lyrics for this significant occasion.

"He said it's my job to be cleaning up this mess, and that's enough reason to go for me," the artist sang.

Buffett has agreed to bring a Margaritaville Casino and Resort to the desolate, hurricane damaged south side of Grand Biloxi's property.

"I like that, the Margaritaville Casino Resort Biloxi. I want that T-shirt," Buffett joked with the crowd at the announcement of his endeavor.

Harrah's vice chairman and fellow Pascagoula native Chuck Atwood said the T-shirts go on sale in 2010, when a $700 million expansion opens in east Biloxi.

"People from all over the world love the concept of Margaritaville," Atwood said. "And we're going to build the embodiment of that place that lives in people's hearts and minds, we're going to build it right here in Biloxi."

John Payne oversees the Biloxi property for Harrah's. He opened the news conference by saying, "Boy this is an exciting day."

It was so much different than those frightful days 20 months ago, when Katrina slammed Grand Biloxi's casino barges into buildings that were more than a block away from the resort. But instead of wasting away, Grand's parent company found a way to get Jimmy Buffett to pump new life into the east Biloxi property.

"I just have always thought people needed a couple of hours to get away from the real world," Buffett said, thinking back to his early days on the entertainment circuit. "Since that was what Biloxi was to me in the old days, I just find it an amazing kind of full circle experience to be coming back here."

Harrah's owns everything south of Highway 90 from the old Casino Magic hotel to Oak Street. Over the next three years, that entire area will be transformed into a parrothead's haven.

As he sang at the end of his first tune, "It's my job to be better than the best. And that makes the day for me."

Harrah's waterfront revitalization includes a 420 room hotel, a shopping complex, and Buffett's Margaritaville casino.

The second tune Buffett sang was the name of his resort. During an early stanza in "Margaritaville," the musician suddenly had a thought.

"Wait until all of my cousins and relatives find out I've got a casino in Biloxi," he laughed.

Gov. Haley Barbour arrived just before Buffett took the stage. When he got a chance to talk about the significance of Buffett's project, the governor said, "We are even prouder that he has decided he wants to be part, and a large part of Mississippi's gulf coast coming back bigger and better than it's ever been before. Jimmy we're grateful. And let me just tell you, it's going to be a success."

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway spoke right before the governor.

"Today represents a huge milestone in the long term recovery of the city of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Holloway said.

Dozens of local dignitaries were on hand to cheer on Biloxi's newest, musical entrepreneur.

"With Harrah's and Jimmy Buffett, we're going to grow this market to levels we never dreamed of," Holloway said.

Grand's parent company is Harrah's Entertainment. It's the largest gaming company in the world. And it's about to be sold. But executive said that sale has no bearing on Harrah's plans for Biloxi, in part because the potential owners have okayed the expansion. Gary Loveman is Harrah's chief executive officer.

"Certainly the consequence of this terrible event is the chance for rebirth in this region," he said during his short talk.

Right after the hurricane, Harrah's promised it would reinvest in its east Biloxi property. First it bought the old Casino Magic location. Then it acquired land north of Highway 90 Tuesday, it made a $700 million announcement to redevelop only the hurricane damaged waterfront side of its resort.

"Build a new experience here on the gulf coast that will bring many, many more tourists to the area," is what Atwood said the project would do.

As Buffett ended "Margaritaville", a smile crossed his face.

"Welcome to the Margaritaville Casino Resort in Biloxi, MS," he shouted. And then, in typical Buffett fashion, he said, "I'm going fishing."

Just like that, he was gone. Buffett didn't stick around to answer questions from the media.

Work on Margaritaville and an adjoining shopping complex being created by the Simon Property Group from Indianapolis should begin this summer.