Expected buyer of Harrah’s wants to raze old warehouse

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 22, 2003

[10/21/03]A century-old downtown building could be coming down to make way for casino improvements related to the sale of Harrah’s Vicksburg Hotel and Casino.

The sale under which Vicksburg’s lone downtown casino will transform from Harrah’s to Horizon is expected to be completed this month. It will be heard before the Mississippi Gaming Commission Wednesday in Jackson.

The new owner will be Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corporation of Fort Mitchell, which operates casinos in Greenville, South Lake Tahoe and Grand Cayman Island.

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Site plans show improvements at the Vicksburg property, but a brick building south of the floating casino along Levee Street is in the way.

“Although it is very old, it’s not necessarily historically significant,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said Monday during a public hearing on an appeal before the city board.

There was no public opposition to the plan to tear down the former Western Auto warehouse. In its place will be additional parking and a new entrance to the casino. The appeal came from the Vicksburg Architectural Review Board, which issued a stay on the application for the demolition permit.

The red-brick building was constructed around 1900 and is one of two buildings remaining in the area that was once the city’s warehouse district. The other is the Surplus City building north of the casino boat.

Toni Lanford, chairman of the Architectural Review Board, said she has spoken with representatives of Columbia Sussex about trying to save the building and make it a part of the parking area.

“We understand progress and do what you have to, but this is our position,” Lanford said.

The building is owned by Canal Beverages. Co-owner Vivian Thomas of Brandon said the company supports the casino company’s plan.

The only concern raised by the public was from Vicksburg resident Wilsey Kelly who said he was worried about more multilevel parking garages being built downtown.

City officials said it was not in the plans for that property shown to them and that they doubted there would be any need for such parking garages. Today, there are two multilevel parking garages on Mulberry Street across from the casino hotel.

Leyens said he agreed that the city did not want any more parking garages and that he will look at the city ordinance to see if changes need to be made.

“The two towers we have downtown now are good examples of ugly,” Leyens said.

The board could make a decision about the building on Levee Street at its next meeting at 10 a.m. Friday at City Hall Annex.

Harrah’s opened in November 1993 as Mississippi’s first casino-hotel combination. The sale leaves Harrah’s with locations in Shreveport, New Orleans and Tunica in this region.