Casino company makes an offer for riverside land

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003

[03/08/03]Developers considering what would be a second new golfing and casino resort were given permission Friday to buy riverfront land belonging to now-bankrupt Vicksburg Chemical Company.

Jacobs Entertainment Inc., whose development division is based in Cleveland, Ohio, was granted the right to buy a 120-day option to purchase the land, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality executive director Charles Chisolm said Friday. The company seeks 500 acres west of Warrenton Road and north of the Rainbow Casino site.

In January, developer Jim Belisle revealed plans for a separate piece of riverfront property south of the Vicksburg Chemical property. If both newly announced projects were completed, the city would have six casinos.

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Proposals were submitted to the MDEQ by six prospective purchasers. Of the five other proposals, two, from Pacific Chlorine Inc. and Harcros Chemicals Inc., were for continuing to use the portion of the property east of Warrenton Road for chemical production.

Ryan Ma, Ph.D., proposed to use part of the production facility to make slow-release fertilizer.

American Brownfields Assurance proposed creating a trust to take title to the property and clean it up for MDEQ.

Bowmar Baptist Church proposed to buy approximately 18 acres as a buffer zone for the church’s other acreage in the area.

“The next four months will be a critical time,” said David Grunenwald, Jacobs Entertainment’s vice president of development and leasing. During that time the company will be considering whether or not to pay the $7 million it has offered Vicksburg Chemical for the land. Any casinos that might be built would require approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Both the Belisle and Jacobs plans include a hotel, a casino and and the Jacobs project calls for two golf courses while Belisle proposes one.

Belisle said his group, which includes the developer of three previous Mississippi casino projects, Lyle Berman, considered the Vicksburg Chemical property but decided in favor of the 600 acres they have an option to purchase.

“Lyle Berman has a reputation for building very, very upscale” projects, Belisle said when asked about the possibility of a six-casino market. “I think his position is that competition is good,” Belisle said of Berman. “We just have to build a facility that will attract our share of the market.”

Jacobs Entertainment’s gaming operation is based in Blackhawk, Colo., Grunenwald said. The company also has business interests in Nevada, Virginia and Louisiana, and has an option to purchase property in D’Iberville, he added.

The land fell under the MDEQ’s control after Vicksburg Chemical went bankrupt and asked for court permission to abandon the land, MDEQ legal division chief Chuck Barlow said. “We won the right to tell Vicksburg Chemical, when to sell the land and who to sell it to” in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York, he said.

No environmental problems have been found on the 500 acres Jacobs may buy, Barlow said. Significant cleanup will be necessary on the site’s remaining 40 acres, which includes where the chemical plant was located, Barlow said. The MDEQ will continue to consider how and by whom that site can best be cleaned up, he added.

“The site is contaminated from decades of use as a pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer production facility,” Chisolm said in his memo. There are also disposal sites on the land that were legal when in use, but aren’t anymore.

The MDEQ reviewed the proposals for about 10 days, Chisolm said. His memo said they were evaluated on four main criteria: cleanup commitment, environmental impact of proposed land use, non-environmental impact to community and state and feasibility of the project.

Vicksburg has four casinos now generating about $210 million per year in wagers at slot machines and table games. Isle of Capri turns 10 years old in August. Harrah’s, Mississippi’s first hotel and casino, opened in November 1993. Ameristar Casino followed in February 1994, and in June of that year Rainbow Casino opened with a theme park, which has since closed.

As the sucessor to Lady Luck, the Isle also owns former Jett school land south of the river bridges. No development is pending for that site.