BILOXI -- Connecticut's Foxwoods Resort Casino is the largest casino resort in the United States at 9 million square feet and growing. On Tuesday, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, announced it will develop and operate a casino in Biloxi.
Foxwoods Resort Casino at Biloxi Pointe, the tribe's first property outside Connecticut, will be a $265 million destination resort and casino on 23 acres owned by Chris Ferrara on Biloxi's Back Bay, adjacent to Biloxi Lugger restaurant and Biloxi Boardwalk Marina, both owned by Ferrara. About 95 percent of the former Heinz plant on the property will be used for the new resort's convention center and casino floor.
"The theme will be old Biloxi," Ferrara said, which complements Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich's vision for the city.
Among the amenities at the 781,000-square-foot complex will be:
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-- 50,000 square feet of casino space with about 1,380 slot machines and table games
-- Casino lounge designed for millennial customers
-- 500-room hotel
-- 71,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space with a theater. "That will be the largest convention floor on the (Mississippi) Gulf Coast -- second to the Coliseum," Ferrara said.
-- Six restaurants and bars, including a steakhouse, buffet, sports bar and café
-- 3,300 square feet of retail
-- A spa, fitness center, pool, and 10,000-square-foot bowling and shuffleboard space, along with outdoor entertainment and other attractions to be announced
The resort, tentatively scheduled to open in spring 2019, will employ several thousand people.
Foxwoods is teaming with Ferrara and Biloxi Boardwalk Ventures and The Hartmann Group LLC, the resort's project-management company.
"This is an exciting opportunity to not only expand geographic diversification for the Foxwoods brand, but also leverage our management expertise well beyond New England," said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council.
Foxwoods Casino is on the Mashantucket Pequot's reservation in Mashantucket, Conn. The tribe has contributed more than $3 billion to that state since 1993 through the first-of-its-kind tribal casino-revenue sharing agreement.
Away from the reservation in Biloxi, Foxwoods will be required to pay the 12 percent tax all casino operators in the state pay on gross casino revenue and will fall under the same requirement to have an amenity that will attract new visitors and grow the market.
"They will be treated as any other operator," said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
This will be Biloxi's ninth casino.
"Biloxi, Mississippi, is a proven destination tourism market," said Felix Rappaport, president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, "with its near-perfect, year-round climate, casual coastal vibe and exciting nightlife -- all of which provides a perfect location to feature our world-class entertainment offerings."
Ferrara, president and chief executive officer of Ferrara Fire Apparatus in Louisiana, bought 32 acres of waterfront land on the northeastern tip of East Biloxi in 2002 and built the restaurant and marina. He won casino-site approval in 2012. Working with him at Biloxi Boardwalk Ventures is Bill Kilduff, chief operating officer and former vice president and general manager of the Isle of Capri; and Stephen Turpin, chief financial officer.
Ferrara said the agreement with Foxwoods also is a great deal for Biloxi. In October, the City Council agreed to complete the Biloxi Loop at an estimated cost of $22 million. The loop connects casinos and businesses in East Biloxi along U.S. 90, Caillavet Street and Back Bay Boulevard, but the eastern end down Pine Street was never built. Ferrara said the road is paramount to get financing for the new casino. Gilich noted completing the Loop will open that area of the city to more development, after it was devastated during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago and still is mostly empty.
Financing a prerequisite
Before any work on the road begins, the agreement with Biloxi requires the casino developers to close on the $260 million financing for the new casino. The Mississippi Development Authority will contribute $5.7 million and Ferrara will provide $7 million and the rights of way for the new road. The additional $9 million would come from Biloxi.
Gilich said Ferrara has worked for years to bring the casino to Biloxi, "and the partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe will certainly energize this project.
"This development has an opportunity to strengthen the Biloxi gaming market by adding a dynamic new resort that will help attract new visitors to the area."