Diamondhead casino proposal debated at planning commission meeting

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

DIAMONDHEAD, MS (WLOX) - The Hancock County Planning Commisison held a public hearing Thursday that could open the door for a casino in Diamondhead. Jacobs Entertainment needs the planning commission to rezone about 70 acres south of I-10. That's where a $150 million casino may be developed.

However, the Diamondhead Property Owners Association board claims this project could put the entire southside of the community at risk.

The Diamondhead yacht club area was once so beautiful. But Katrina wiped out virtually everything south of I-10. Three years later, storm slabs and shipwrecks still litter sections of the Diamondhead shoreline.

Now, Jacobs Entertainment wants to replace the mess with a Diamondhead casino resort. Dave Grunenwald is vice president of development for the Jacobs group. "We've had our eye on Mississippi for a long time," he said.  "This is a piece of property that's right off the freeway.  So access is good.  That's important for any business."

Jacobs' plan is to build a $150 million casino resort that creates up to 600 jobs, and generates as much as $14 million in taxes for Hancock County. "The value of the property clearly is that it's in a great location, in a market that is pro-gaming," explained Grunenwald.

What's great to developers is worrisome to Mario Feola. "It isn't a good location," Feola said. He lives south of I-10, near the proposed casino. Feola's also president of the Diamondhead Property Owners Association. And his board has gone on the record against Jacobs' rezoning request. "It just doesn't make sense safety wise," he said.

In a letter the POA board sent to the Hancock County Planning Commission on December 2, board members wrote, "Diamondhead was developed as a prestigious community for residential use with numerous amenities. Supporting commercial areas were identified. Casinos were not part of this plan."

Before Thursday's public hearing started, Feola called the rezoning issue a money versus people debate. He claimed the Jacobs casino group was only focused on money, and the POA was worried about Diamondhead's people. Grunenwald says that's not the case at all. "This is a good project in an area that is looking to grow, that's looking for progress. And it will allow the community to continue to thrive," he said.

Grunenwald says it will take many months of permit applications and approvals before his company builds a casino on this hurricane damaged land. Step one in that process is getting the planning commission to rezone the land south of I-10, and west of Yacht Club Drive.