D’Iberville hopes to cash in with casino of its own

D’Iberville hopes to cash in with casino of its own

The city of D’Iberville, just north of the Back Bay of Biloxi, is looking to get into the casino market.

Royal D’Iberville Development Inc., made up of developer Allen Paulson and local developers, has proposed a casino and hotel complex just west of the I-10 bridge over the bay. The plans call for a 500-room, 14-floor hotel with a 10-floor parking garage. Three restaurants are planned for the complex.

One dominant feature of the plan is the “Porte Cochere,” a round structure resembling a huge gazebo, under which vehicles could park and providing a covered access to the casino entrance.

The casino would be the first gambling establishment to visitors coming to the coast from I-10 via I-110.

Their plans face quite a few obstacles.

Keesler Air Force Base has raised concerns over the proposed height of the buildings, since current plans would place the buildings in the path of planes flying into and out of the base.

Environmentalists are anxious since the site involves a certain amount of wetlands and borders on environmentally sensitive areas. The site is also not too far from the land on which Spectrum Casino was proposed several years ago.

The Spectrum project drew the ire of environmentalists and was initially turned down for a wetlands use permit by the Bureau of Marine Resources (then a part of Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks) and the Corp of Engineers. Spectrum reapplied to the Bureau of Marine Resources, bringing more data for consideration, and was approved.

However, litigation ensued between the Corp of Engineers and environmental groups, and the project was eventually abandoned.

The report from the Department of Marine Resources on the Royal D’Iberville project stated that “the adverse environmental impacts, if any, associated with [the] project are minimal and significantly outweighed by the benefits to the public which will result from the project …” The Commission on Marine Resources voted on Dec. 16 to approve a casino and 500-room hotel and issued a coastal wetlands permit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Environmental Quality and the state Gaming Commission must also approve the site. None are expected to downcheck the site.

The project does not need the official approval of Keesler Air Force Base–only the state agencies and the city of D’Iberville. However, perhaps because of the recent flap involving the Imperial Palace’s decision to add two floors to their structure without permission, Keesler Air Force Base is concerned about the proposed height of the hotel in the Royal D’Iberville complex.

In a letter to Jerry Mitchell, director of coastal ecology at the Department of Marine Resources, Brigadier General John M. Speigel, Commander of the 81st Training Wing at Keesler, said “The currently proposed height of the hotel of approximately 240 feet places this structure in harm’s way of aircraft departures and arrivals at Keesler Air Force Base. The proposed height impacts not only our current flying mission, but seriously damages our ability to absorb future missions.”

Speigel has also state that “we are working in concert with the city of D’Iberville to determine a workable height for community development and continued flying operations at Keesler. We welcome community growth and development. Pre-planning such as this (Royal D’Iberville developers, city, Keesler) assures a win-win situation for all. We, the developers, builders, city and Keesler can work together as we welcome new development to the community.”

In addition, the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the cities of Biloxi and D’Iberville, commissioned the Gulf Regional Planning Commission to perform a joint land use study. In this study, now in its final stages, the population density of the flight paths around Keesler is a source of some attention. Although the Royal D’Iberville development lies outside of the Accident Potential Zone, the buildings, as proposed, will still have an impact on the flight plans of military planes.

In December, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) wrote a letter to Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway reinforcing his support of Keesler Air Force Base. He did not specify the source of his concern, but simply said that “flight safety–the safety of our military pilots, aircrews and citizens in the local communities–is paramount. If the encroachment issue is pushed further, I cannot frame an argument in my mind that wins against flight safety.”

Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark has sent a letter to Speigel, saying, “I will not sign a tidelands lease for this proposed development or any other future development which would endanger Keesler Field. The developers will have to redraw their plans to eliminate the threat before they will be allowed to lease the tidelands on which to locate their project.”

D’Iberville Mayor Rusty Quave has stated that, “D’Iberville will not put something up that will interfere with the flight lines at Keesler.” He said that D’Iberville is committed to working with everyone involved to work out a solution that is acceptable to all.

Mark Seymour Sr., of Moran, Seymour & Associates, Inc., the site planners for the project, says that the site will certainly support a plan that has a lower parking and hotel complex. Paulson–Seymour says–is “willing to consider a different design” that would accommodate the concerns made by Keesler Air Force Base. “There is flexibility in the plan,” Seymour said. Moran, Seymour & Associates has been empowered by Paulson to work out the challenges facing the project, but no changes have officially been made.

If the design is approved by all parties, the casino and parking garage could be open in as little as nine months–by the end of 1998. The hotel could be open about six months after that.

The casino itself is almost ready for business on the inside–all it lacks are the actual gambling paraphernalia. The casino was purchased from a bankrupt casino operation and moved to the site in late 1997.

Copyright Mississippi Business Journal Jan 26, 1998

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