If you stood on the shoulder of I-10 and looked across the Jourdan River, you could see Hancock County's new tourism magnet. John Jagunich is the man holding the magnet. Casino Magic Bay St. Louis' President said, "We truly now have become a destination casino resort."
That news had Jagunich dancing at Casino Magic's official opening of the $38 million Bay Tower Hotel.
"It was truly a joyous celebration, the culmination of all our efforts," he said. "The reward is this magnificent structure and the future reward it will bring."
Jagunich's reward was watching people walk through the 14-story, 291-room hotel for the first time.
Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre was one of the invited guests. "The biggest thing is the opportunity for additional customers to come in, more visitors to the area."
Many of the opening day guests second lined through a main lobby hallway. They ended up in Cypress Cove Ballroom. The large convention space was something Hancock county didn't have until Casino Magic built its hotel.
According to Hancock County Tourism Director Beth Carriere, "We now are a major contender for the convention market, not only state but regional and national now."
When Casino Magic's original owners talked about a high rise hotel almost a decade ago, they envisioned a resort with 1,500 rooms. In terms of actual size, the new hotel is one fifth of that dream. In terms of significance, Beth Carriere said it's the main reason why Hancock County can expand its tourism base.
Casino Magic executives said they're already thinking about building a second 300 room tower, right next to their new hotel.
Wednesday's opening just happened to coincide with news that coast hotels didn't suffer as much last year as some analysts thought they would. The Gulf Coast Hotel and Lodging Association just released its preliminary occupancy numbers from 2001. According to statistics gathered by the hotel group, 74 percent of the area's available rooms were used last year, which means despite the sluggish economy, and the travel lull after September 11, hotel occupancy fell just one percentage point from where it was in 2000.