Mississippi Bluffs to appear before gaming panel|[01/18/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2007

Owners of a potential casino site on former Vicksburg Chemical property near Rifle Range Road were to appear before state regulators today to detail how their 40-acre site may be developed, kicking off a year of reckoning for theirs and two other projects already on the drawing board for more than two years.

Mississippi Bluffs Development LLC will present information to the Mississippi Gaming Commission to fulfill the second in a three-step process all casinos in the state must complete to secure gaming licenses.

&#8220We will have renderings of a design,” said Paul Bunge, a Denver developer who is marketing the site for a professional golf course and space for outlet shopping.

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Bunge also said the actual site has changed, albeit by less than a mile.

The group must go through the formality of submitting plans on a site to be approved since a change has occurred.

Also, despite a special zoning exception the group won from the City of Vicksburg in June, it must appear again before the city to formally present a development plan.

Site approval is the first of three phases for licensing casino ventures in Mississippi. The second is a more detailed site development plan. Within two years, developers must then present financing details.

As for the structure that will house gaming operations at the development, said to be 50,000 square feet when the state approved the first site in July, Bunge said the development group has paid attention to state laws passed in the past 18 months on how far above water a casino can be built.

&#8220It will be on pilings or stilts,” he said.

If so, the Mississippi Bluffs casino would be the second in Vicksburg since legislation was passed in 2005 allowing casino boats to rest on a foundation of pilings on the Mississippi River instead of floating in it.

Ameristar Casino is being fixed on lattice of reinforced steel beams inside its cofferdam adjacent to the Mississippi. Public relations manager Tracy Hayes said Wednesday the process is still on pace for completion by March.

Separately, the commission still expects key players in the Riverwalk Casino project to bring their financing plan before the panel soon.

Principals in the group, onetime Rainbow developer and refinery owner John A. Barrett Jr. of Shawnee, Okla., and investment banker Lee Seippel of New York, intended to appear this month but did not have financing together.

Site approval for the $50 million Riverwalk development expires July 14, 2007.

&#8220They’re real close,” said Larry K. Gregory, the commission’s executive director. &#8220But that third and final phase is more cumbersome and complex.”

Originally proposed as Magnolia Hills Resort and Pot of Gold Casino, Riverwalk’s plans for its site just north of Rainbow Casino on Warrenton Road include a hotel and a resort theme with features to provide views of the Mississippi River.

The most expensive casino project planned for Vicksburg, one proposed by Lakes Entertainment, faces a tighter deadline.

The group has until Feb. 16, when its site approval expires, to present a financing plan to the state.

In the past month, Gregory said, attorneys representing Lakes have talked with the commission about making minor changes in the casino’s site, as is now the case with Mississippi Bluffs.

In February 2005, the $200 million project was approved for a site west of U.S. 61 South the Mississippi River and Meadow Lane.

The company’s Web site still features its Vicksburg proposal among four other casinos in various stages of completion in California, Michigan and Oklahoma. All four are on property owned by Native American tribes. Amenities listed for the Vicksburg property include a 250-room hotel, a nightclub and a restaurant.

Calls to Lakes Entertainment offices outside Minneapolis were not returned.

Vicksburg has four casinos, the last of which opened in 1994. Two of the original casinos have changed ownership, Harrah’s to Horizon in 2003 and Isle of Capri to DiamondJacks in July 2006.

A third, Rainbow, was put up for sale in October by its parent company, Bally Technologies.