Construction on a roll near river|[09/05/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2007

While work on the Riverwalk Casino has continued in earnest nearly since its groundbreaking in July, equally intense planning continues on another site almost next door.

About 40 acres along Warrenton Road approved to be the site of the $190 million Mississippi Bluffs — a development still promising to blend a casino, a golf course and retail space — have been placed under contract to Nevada-based American Gaming Enterprises, a developer involved with the project since its inception said Tuesday.

Paul Bunge of Silver Tip Project Partners said the company’s experience in the industry, specifically with casinos in the Tunica market, has sped up timelines considerably.

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All parties involved with what would be the fifth or sixth casino in Vicksburg hope construction can begin “as quickly as it possibly can,” Bunge said.

Obtaining adequate financing is the third and usually the lengthiest step in earning a casino license in Mississippi. Though the original site plan called for a financing deadline of January 2009, Bunge said the contract calls for financing to be in place by November.

“They’re in the middle of construction drawings,” Bunge said, adding the company will seek an operating license from state regulators under its own name despite the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s 2006 approval as such. Another action was OK’d in January 2007, including a minor site change to allow for more retail space and for the 50,000-square-foot facility to sit on pilings on the Mississippi River instead of floating in it.

Items for the commission’s Sept. 20 meeting are still being finalized, MGC deputy director Allen Godfrey said.

Legal advertisements show ownership will be reconfigured into a mix of limited liability companies, headed by Mississippi Gaming Enterprises LLC. That group will be owned by three other firms, one of which is American Gaming Enterprises.

In addition to the gaming space and professionally designed golf course, the Bluffs development is expected to include a 232-room hotel and a 510-space parking garage.

Acreage occupied by the casino developers was part of Vicksburg Chemical, whose parent company went bankrupt in 2002. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality deeded the land to Bunge in July 2006 on the condition the casino developers would pay for an $8 million cleanup of about 20 acres said to be contaminated.

Another casino project, proposed by Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment, is on hold until at least its financing deadline in February 2009. Its $200 million development in the works for land off U.S. 61 South is contingent on its developing about 150 acres of former railroad property purchased temporarily from the City of Vicksburg.

In addition to property taxes, Vicksburg’s four casinos also pay about $10 million in revenue-based taxes to Vicksburg and Warren County. So far this year, figures compiled by the Mississippi Tax Commission show $6,006,538 paid to Vicksburg and $2,548,103 to Warren County. The Vicksburg Warren School District has collected $692,140.