Isle's $160 Million Expansion Will Mirror Margaritaville Timetable

BILOXI (WLOX) -- Casino Row is about to undergo a makeover. Isle of Capri executives just announced they're ready to move ahead with a $160 million expansion, "which we plan to begin as soon as we determine the timing of the settlement of our Hurricane Katrina insurance claim," the company wrote in its fourth quarter financial report released on Wednesday.

That report said the Isle's goal is to have the expansion open at the same time Margaritaville opens. Margaritaville is the Jimmy Buffet themed resort being built on Grand Casino property, right next door to the Isle.

When Mississippi gaming commissioners read their monthly reports, they see south Mississippi casino revenues that appear to be as high as the cranes that tower over Margaritaville's construction site. John Hairston is one of the state's three commissioners.

"So the headline would be we continue to do the right thing," he said.

The Margaritaville Resort and Casino is perched right across the street from Grand Casino Biloxi. It opens in 2010.

That same year, Isle of Capri managers expect to finish an expansion they first announced 18 months ago. Doug Shipley is the Isle's new general manager.

"Let me first say that we've been excited about this project for a long time," he said.

The Isle will renovate its original hotel. It will remodel its convention area, so meeting groups can use the resort again. It will add restaurant options.  And it will move slot machines onto a new gaming floor that will be built between the parking garage and the resort.

"It's more than just putting a slot machine in a space," Shipley said. "I think what Isle has stepped back and taken a look at doing is truly creating something that is very, very nice on the gulf coast."

The Isle's pledge to spend $160 million on its Biloxi resort reconfirmed what gaming insider Bernie Burkholder said on WLOX's Sunday Night program about south Mississippi's casino industry.

"I think the headline is going to be steady growth, increased jobs, taxes in a community that grows and becomes more vibrant over time," Burkholder explained.

In this case, over time means over the next two years. That's the time it will take for the Isle and the Grand to redo their waterfront resorts.

Isle executives initially pitched their expansion plans in January, 2007. But for a variety of reasons, they got put on hold until Wednesday.