MGM Park not paying off for Biloxi

Updated: Apr. 23, 2019 at 7:09 PM CDT
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BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi Shuckers has done very well on the field at MGM Park in Biloxi for the last five years. City leaders say what has not worked out so well is paying back the money the city borrowed to help build MGM park.

The city borrowed $21 million and each year owes $1.2 million for bond payments. The problem is the stadium and ball club only generate about $600,000 in revenue for the city. It was supposed to be much more than that.

That leaves the city making up the rest of the payment out of the general fund.

When the Shuckers first came to town, a feasibility study predicted attendance to be more than 4,100 people per game. But it’s never come close to that, and neither has the dollars coming to the city.

If Mayor FoFo Gilich had been in office five years ago, he says he would not have signed the deal.

“No, not that deal. I could have a made a deal, but not that deal," he explained. "And history is behind us.”

He believes the numbers just didn’t add up.

“I think the operational costs of stadium were not looked at in the long term or even in the short term,” he explained.

The mayor is known as an optimist, but even that trait has its limits.

“We’re disappointed that it’s not breaking even. Of course, we’ll get there. It may take longer, and more negotiation and more creativity, innovation in order to make that facility be a winner,” Gilich said.

There’s also a concern about market size. The Coast is not that big.

“That’s a point. Look at what happened to Mobile. Mobile is a little bit bigger operation, and I think they’re moving to Huntsville. But that certainly could be said," Gilich explained.

But there has been some success around the park with new restaurants and other things, according to the mayor.

“Hotel rooms are growing here in Biloxi. We’re getting ready to put 300 more on line right outside this window. You can see from this office,” he explained.

When the deal was signed 5 years ago, the city was going to be able to sponsor 12 outdoor events per year at MGM Park. The city hasn’t come close to doing that yet. And the mayor says there’s one major reason why: Mother Nature.

“The biggest part of the stadium is outdoors. We’re subject to the weather, and God throws some and has thrown some bad weather at us, a lot of rain,” he said.

Despite the problems, the mayor is not giving up.

“In business, you have a five, ten and twenty year plan. This is our fifth year, and I think we’ll act accordingly and do some things that we need to do," Gilich said.

Now, the mayor tells us he’s going to be taking a hard look at the numbers over the next few months and says he will look into the possibility of trying to renegotiate the agreement involving MGM Park and the baseball team, so the city can stop using general fund money every year to help pay off the bond note. That note runs for another 17 years.

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