Developer seeks to buy casino hotel

Published 11:50 am Friday, March 16, 2012

A New Orleans developer has offered to buy Grand Station Hotel.

An “unsolicited offer” to acquire all outstanding common stock of Grand Station Hotel is valued “in the millions,” said Kenneth W. Bickford, president of Chappapeela Development Corp.

Bickford didn’t specify the sale price. One of two other development firms Bickford heads, Avondale Shipyards Inc., will purchase the hotel from M Street Inc., which owns the 117-room facility and holds the adjacent Grand Station Casino’s docking permits. The hotel connects to downtown Vicksburg and the casino, which is currently mired in foreclosure proceedings.

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Plans call for a luxury condominium hotel and marina resort, according to a release issued Thursday by Bickford. The owning entity is unaffiliated with the shipbuilding yard in New Orleans owned by Huntington Ingalls. Bickford said the corporation is named as such because his real estate partner is a son-in-law of one of the shipyard’s founders.

“I’m excited about the possibility,” said Bickford, whose grandmother was from Vicksburg. “The location has potential for an advantage.”

The existing hotel, completed with the casino by Harrah’s in 1993 as Vicksburg’s second gaming hall and the state’s first casino-hotel tandem, will be refurbished into a 70-unit condo complex complemented by retail space, restaurants, a bar, a lobby, a spa, a marina, tennis courts and a resort pool, Bickford said.

Bally Gaming Inc. is foreclosing on the casino for $3 million owed for equipment inside the 36,000-square-foot facility. It goes to the Warren County Courthouse steps March 26 unless the Las Vegas-based gaming device maker and casino owner Delta Investments and Development resolve the debt.

The two situations won’t affect one another, said Mickey Fedell, Grand Station marketing director.

“It’s two separate entities,” Fedell said.

In the release, Bickford mentioned Desoto Island Inc. as a prospective new owner” and a partner in the development of the luxury condo and resort property. No such company is incorporated in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.

Any firm interested in buying an existing casino or developing one in Mississippi along the Mississippi River or Gulf of Mexico must apply for a license from the Mississippi Gaming Commission. No firm has applied for a new license to operate Grand Station Casino, said executive director Allen Godfrey, who said the fate of the casino hinges on the foreclosure sale.

“It’s really up to them what happens,” Godfrey said.

Harrah’s sold the facility in 2003 for $28.6 million to Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex, which renamed the casino Horizon. Tropicana Entertainment, which had been part of Columbia Sussex, took over Horizon operations and, in 2007, the firm had agreed to sell the casino to Nevada Gold and Casinos for about $35 million until the deal fell through a year later.

In 2010, Delta bought the hotel and casino for $3.25 million in cash plus liabilities. One was a lease agreement dating to 1993 with the City of Vicksburg for 2.95 acres of property at City Front and the casino parking garages between Mulberry and Washington streets. The city had sold the property to Harrah’s, then the public areas were leased back to the city for $1 a year.

Under the agreement, the city was to receive about $562,940 a year plus 1.5 percent of the casino’s net revenues until Oct. 13, 2033. Termination fees of $450,000 would kick in if the casino closed. The agreement has been transferred to each owner during the casino’s existence.

Since the casino has been open, the city has received about $10.1 million from its owners.

Mayor Paul Winfield has said the foreclosure is not expected to affect the City Front payments to the city.