Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he’s not against family entertainment, but he also doesn’t favor a “sweetheart deal” that could cost South Mississippi $25 million over the next 40 years if the land around Margaritaville Resort Biloxi is rezoned to prohibit a casino.
At a press conference at his Gulfport office Wednesday, Hosemann gave his opinion of the city’s proposal to rezone about 20 acres in East Biloxi. The proposal would prohibit a casino from being built there and would reduce the value of the land, he said.
Hosemann told the Sun Herald the city “absolutely” is getting between the negotiations his office and Barrington Development are conducting for a $140 million Phase II of Margaritaville Resort.
The company opened Margaritaville Resort in June. Barrington now wants to build a hotel on land the company owns next to the Great Lawn at Harrah’s Gulf Coast and an amusement park between the two hotels. About 5.5 acres of that property are controlled by the Secretary of State’s Office.
Hosemann said he’s been in negotiations for months with Barrington over leasing the 5.5-acre Tidelands property and he hasn’t talked to any casino or other developers. He’s ordered an appraisal of the site and said after he gets the fair market value, he will go out for bids to lease the property.
In August, the developers offered $2 per square foot, Hosemann said, when the state is collecting $4.90 a square foot from the company on land adjacent to the resort. The difference over the life of a 40-year lease is $25 million, he said, which is Tidelands money, which is spent on projects in South Mississippi.
Hosemann said he supports the request to rezone the land on the north side of U.S. 90, where Barrington proposes building an extended-stay hotel and keeping the south side zoned waterfront.
The city, not the developer, is requesting the zoning change on the south side, Hosemann said. He’s asked that the Biloxi Planning Commission zoning hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday be postponed, but the city said Wednesday it will go on as scheduled.
Changing the zoning from waterfront would lower the maximum height of any building on the property from 175 feet down to 60 feet, which Hosemann said won’t allow Barrington to bring in the huge Ferris wheel it proposes as the centerpiece of its amusement park, or the marina he said Barrington wants to build.
“That’s why (Barrington) didn’t ask for the rezoning,” Hosemann said.
Earlier this week, Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich sent a letter to Hosemann and posted it on the city website. In it, he suggested Hosemann is opposed to family entertainment at the site and wants a casino there.
“I am not opposed to family development,” Hosemann said. “I have four grandchildren and I don’t go to casinos.
“We would like to lease this at the highest and best use.”
That may turn out to be Margaritaville, he said, “and that would be great with me.”