GULFPORT -- The City Council unanimously approved a 60-year lease Tuesday for a harbor casino that would be developed by partners who run a casino and hotel in Natchez.
One of the partners, Virginia attorney Robert Lubin, also has extended a contract with a private owner to buy the rundown Markham Building downtown by June 30, and has joined a New Orleans group that plans to finance development of the old Veterans Affairs property, now known as Centennial Plaza, on Beach Boulevard. Lubin has bought a vacant lot adjacent to the Markham.
"With respect to the casino development," Lubin told the City Council and administration, "we are actively marketing overseas. We actually ended up doing better than we expected to." He said interest in the project was high, particularly in Asia.
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Lubin has experience raising money for developments thought the E-B 5 Visa program, which allows foreigners to secure permanent U.S. residency by investing in projects in the states.
His Mississippi Coast Entertainment LP is expected to sign a casino lease with the city's urban-renewal agency, the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, and two private owners -- Marine Life and Misco Marine. The city and two companies will lease 10.8 acres for the casino.
GRC attorney Steve Hendrix said the city will receive in payments the same percentage of land it owns, which is 40.5 percent. The casino group will pay $80,000 a month in rent until the casino opens, then 6 percent of gross gambling revenue. The 60-year lease includes three renewal options of 10 years each.
The casino, Markham Building and Centennial Plaza projects represent a total investment of $400 million, Hendrix said. The harbor lease requires Lubin's group to spend at least $140 million on the casino resort, which will have a 300-room hotel. To satisfy Mississippi Gaming Commission requirements, the casino also must have an added amenity. Hendrix said that amenity is under discussion.
Construction is supposed to start in the first quarter of 2017, Hendrix said.
The latest Coast casino built, the Scarlett Pearl Casino Resort in D'Iberville, cost $290 million. It has the minimum 300 hotel rooms, and a miniature-golf course as its required amenity.
Lubin told the council his company has talked with Gaming Commission representatives about what the casino project needs to move forward.
"The project is going extremely well," he said. "I'm excited." The Sun Herald was unable to interview Lubin after the meeting because he had to leave for a flight.
Allen Godfrey, Gaming Commission executive director, said Tuesday the developers showed him renderings of the casino and wanted advice on the project's direction.
The council discussed the casino lease in a closed session before voting in the public meeting to approve it.
Previous proposals for harbor casinos have failed to develop. The GRC previously leased the property to developer Rotate Black.
Hendrix believes this proposal will be different. Lubin and his partner in the proposed casino venture, Kevin Preston, also are partners in Magnolia Bluffs Casino-Hotel in Natchez.
"Kevin and Robert have experience in the Mississippi market," Hendrix said. "They have a very successful casino operation in Natchez. They have been looking to get in the Coast market for the past 10 years, and they believe this is one of the last great casino sites on the Mississippi Coast."
The Gulfport council's casino vote came the same day Foxwoods Resort Casino at Biloxi Pointe was announced. The $265 million development is planned on Biloxi's Back Bay. Gulfport has only one casino in operation; Biloxi has eight.
Mary Perez, Sun Herald reporter, contributed to this report.