Get it back: Deed to City Front should be returned

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2009

It might have seemed like a good deal to Vicksburg officials at the time, but selling much of City Front to Harrah’s 18 years ago put at risk a public asset that dates to the city’s founding in 1825.

Ostensibly, adding the public boat launch, docking and parking area north of what is now Horizon Casino and Hotel was done to assure Harrah’s executives that city officials would not sell that site to another developer. It was also done, at least from the city perspective, to assure a new, steady stream of cash.

With Tropicana Entertainment, parent of Horizon, less-than-definite about the company’s future in Vicksburg, the time would seem ripe for the Mayor and Aldermen to act decisively to get back the deed to City Front and assure once and for all this public asset will not be lost in some financial implosion or legal morass in the near or distant future.

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It is true that some assurances of continued public access were in the 1993 document. They were carried forward into 2003 amendments when Harrah’s sold its Vicksburg operation.

The specifics of the deal, which essentially made Vicksburg a partner with the developer, is that Harrah’s would get public portions of land where the casino and hotel were built, the open area of City Front, the two downtown parking garages and other easements.

In turn, the company would pay $562,939.56 per year plus 1.5 percent of casino net revenues for 30 years toward the full purchase price.

In practice, hotel and casino owners have allowed continued public use of one of the parking garages and leased City Front to the City of Vicksburg for $1 per year.

A savings clause provides that the owners of the casino and hotel can pay a $450,000 termination fee to the city and return the deeds to all the property, except where the hotel and casino were actually built. There is apparently no mechanism under which the city can cancel the deal, at least not in the document itself.

It is, however, a change that could be and should be negotiated. We wish nothing but the best for Horizon and its continued success, but after nearly 20 years, the casino market here has pretty well established itself. The owners obviously want to reduce expenses and don’t need City Front. That portion of the real estate should be deeded back to the city and future payments reduced accordingly.