Despite cries that Biloxi shouldn't let big developers take it soul away, the city council has rezoned the old Tivoli hotel site. That's step one in a lengthy process that could ultimately land a billion dollar casino resort across the street from the public sand beach.
Tuesday's debate about the east Biloxi zoning change lasted almost four hours. And many of the comments for and against the request were filled with emotion.
Before council president Ed Gemmill opened the city council meeting, he was out at the old Tivoli hotel site, contemplating his vote. He called the zoning decision "probably one of the most difficult decisions I've had to face as an adult."
And it was made more difficult by the size, and the passion of the crowd at Tuesday's meeting. More than 100 people opposed to and in favor of the zoning change stood shoulder to shoulder in Biloxi's council chambers.
Biloxian Sonya Kifer read a statement she prepared prior to the meeting. "It's obvious that this is not a legal or a suitable site," she told the city council.
Supporters like Glenda Simmons wore yellow buttons that said, "Tivoli, I lov it." That just happens to be Tivoli spelled backward.
"I think it's a great development for that location, a location that's been dormant for years and years," Simmons said.
Two thirds of the speakers felt the 30 acres surrounding the Tivoli site should be rezoned and opened up to a casino development. Cliff Kirkland addressed the council first.
"I certainly disagree with those that claim that rezoning the Tivoli property for a grand development including a casino is contrary to the best interest of our people and our city," Biloxi's former chief administrative officer said.
When it was finally time to vote, a majority of the council agreed with Mike Fitzpatrick, who said Biloxi needed to rezone the Tivoli, because city development was in a crisis right now.
"Nothing is being done. And something has got to be done with respect to development here along the coast," the ward four councilman said.
However, David Fayard said a casino project across from the beach wasn't the answer.
"They say this one casino is going to make or break Biloxi. And it isn't," Fayard said, getting applause from opponents.
In the end, Fitzpatrick, Gemmill, Bill Stallworth and Charles Harrison all voted to rezone the Tivoli, so a casino could potentially be developed there.
"At this particular time in Biloxi's history, it's vital that we move forward," said Gemmill.
Biloxi Capital is the group that's trying to build the Tivoli casino. It's next step is to fill out an application with the gaming commission. That agency is the only regulatory group that can say whether land directly across from the beach is a legal spot to build a casino.