Tivoli Group Makes Pitch For Casino Zoning Change

Published: Aug. 13, 2007 at 8:18 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 13, 2007 at 8:31 PM CDT
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Developers say their billion dollar casino plans for the old Tivoli hotel site are absolutely the right thing to do. Now, they must convince the Biloxi Planning Commission to rezone the Tivoli property.

The proposed casino has 2,500 condo rooms, a variety of shops, several restaurants, and a casino. And it could mean $21 million a year in taxes for Biloxi and its schools. But, the new Tivoli can't be built without a zoning change.

Just hours before a Monday public hearing about the Tivoli's zoning, Biloxi Capital gave WLOX News a computer enhanced drawings of what it would like to build in east Biloxi. Dan Conwill is one of the equity partners in this endeavor.

"It's ambitious, yes, but it's also a very realistic project," he said after rehearsing for the Monday night hearing.

Developers of the new Tivoli have acquired 30 acres of land between Highway 90 and Howard Avenue. They'd like to convert an area littered with the weedy remnants of Hurricane Katrina into a massive Biloxi resort.

"I think it's what the coast needs to expand this marketplace," Conwill said.

The Tivoli site is down the street from Biloxi's casino row. However, nothing west of Kuhn Street is zoned for casinos. And Biloxi Capital needs the waterfront zoning distinction before the new Tivoli comes out of the ground.

To help make that argument, developers got a letter from former Biloxi mayor Jerry O'Keefe. It was included in the packet of information given to WLOX News prior to Monday's public hearing. O'Keefe is rebuilding his home on Beach Boulevard. It's just a block or so from the Tivoli site.

"Now is the best opportunity in 38 years to realize the great potential of this property," O'Keefe wrote in a letter he'll present to the Biloxi Planning Commission."

He points out that the land sat mostly unused since Hurricane Camille hit the coast in 1969.

"This land is like a bride waiting at the church for 38 years, now is the time to act."

If the developers can the city's okay, they must convince the state to go along with their proposal So far, the Mississippi Gaming Commission has not taken an official stance on the Tivoli project, because developers have not filled out a site application yet.

However, gaming agents recently sent a letter to the Biloxi City Council. And it noted that if there was public sand between the water's edge and the on shore spot where a casino would operate, gaming commissioners would generally turn down that application.

The Biloxi Capital team has hired attorney Dan McDaniel. He specializes in Mississippi casino site approval cases.

"I think the site is legal. It's my opinion the site is legal," McDaniel said.

Developers say they'll worry about the legality of the site after they get the waterfront zoning change from Biloxi.

"Without a casino, you could never afford to build a resort of this scale, and with the amenities we're offering," said Conwill.

by Brad Kessie