BILOXI - The Beau Rivage is blending the familiar with the new as it prepares to bring back its style and star power.
The casino promenade is wider, brighter and richer. The vibrant florals in the carpet bloom again, but the place has a more masculine tone with wooden beams in the ceiling and burl veneer on the gaming tables.
Instead of a pit area at the casino's entrance, a 15-foot-wide aisle leads patrons to an elevated high-stakes area and a T-shaped path. Turn right to go to favorite hangouts like the Memphis Q and the Coast nightclub or take a left to get to new experiences: a poker room modeled after the Bellagio's and three restaurants slated to open in December.
Celebrity chef Todd English is bringing an Olives to Biloxi. The casino's signature restaurant, the BR Prime, will have its steaks flown in fresh and its wine collection showcased in an entrance wall. A yet-to-be-named Asian restaurant will feature design elements inspired by water, bamboo and ice sculptures.
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The Beau reopens Aug. 29, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, and the stars begin arriving soon afterward. Jay Leno, Tony Bennett and Sinbad have September performance dates. Gamblers will have 93 tables and 2,100 slots to play.
"This is the next generation of the crown jewel of Mississippi," said Beau President George P. Corchis Jr.
MGM Mirage is spending more than $500 million to bring back the Beau. It is the Coast's big player, employing 3,800 people - 800 more than it did before the storm and far more than any other casino. It will have the most table action, the most hotel rooms and the most meeting space. Corchis said teams of casino personnel carefully planned how to build back with better quality, offerings and efficiency.
The goal was to prepare for new competitors entering the Coast market three years down the road.
"We have definitely raised the bar," Corchis said. "We actually believe in strong competition. I frankly want strong competition. The better the competition, the better we are."
The Beau's exterior looked good compared to others after the storm, but the inside was a different matter. Katrina's tidal surge ripped through the south wall of the casino's gambling barge, pushing its contents into a dam of debris. Some things cannot be replaced. The microbrewery was destroyed, and the Beau lost its collection of museum-quality George Ohr pottery.
The name of the Coast Brewing Company has been shortened to the Coast. The taste of Biloxi Blonde may be only a memory, but the casino re-created the layout and look of the popular nightclub, including its sunken dance floor. The 875, a lounge at the entrance to the casino, will return. A new entertainment venue will be the Breeze Bar, a full-scale lounge located in the middle of the casino floor.
The new high-stakes area has its own buffet and restrooms, functioning like a casino within a casino.
Every hotel room has been redesigned; each will have a 32-inch flat screen television.
Trees have been replaced in the atrium lobby, and popular retail shops will return. Retailers that will be in operation Aug. 29 include the Jewelry Box Watch Boutique, Nu'Vo, BR ETC., Impulse, Actique Sportswear and Waves. Six more retailers will open in December.
The restaurants that will be open include the buffet, the Roasted Bean Coffee Bistro, Snacks, Coast, Scoops Ice Cream, Memphis Smokehouse & Barbecue and Terrace Cafe.
The pool and spa will be back in business as well as the Pool Bar.
It will be December before the 1,550-seat entertainment venue reopens, but the Beau's ballroom can accommodate larger audiences.
Corchis said he looks forward to seeing the faces of employees and customers on opening day.
"It's not all about money and it's not all about design," he said. "It's about people. It's about providing that experience that Beau Rivage has done in the past and will do in the future."
Tom Wilemon can be reached at 896-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org