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BATTLE OF THE CONDOS

Bienville’s developers billed their project as the first new condominiums to break ground in Biloxi after Hurricane Katrina, but South Beach’s builders, RW Development, beat them to the punch.

The two development sites are about half a mile apart on the sand beach on the south side of U.S. 90. Between the Bienville site just west of Veterans Avenue and the South Beach site near Travia Avenue are other RW properties slated for development and the proposed site for Seaside condominiums.

Work on South Beach began almost 60 days ago with little notice, perhaps because the developers did not start unit pre-sales prior to construction like dozens of condo builders.

“We have not released any units for sale,” said RW vice president Granville Smith. “We took an alternative strategy. We are building it, and we will sell it when we can show the buyer the project is fully under way.”

Many developers have to get hard contracts on 50 to 75 percent of their units to get the financing to build condos.

“If we waited to make a sales milestone then it could potentially delay the start of the project, and we didn’t want to do that,” said Smith. “We are able to do this because of our willingness to make a speculative commitment. We are willing to take that risk because of our confidence in the vision of Biloxi as a resort gaming destination.”

RW has bought more than 50 acres along Veterans Avenue and U.S. 90 and plans more than $800 million in total construction. The construction in progress on the south side of U.S. 90 is the first phase of South Beach. Additional phases will be built on the north side.

Construction crews have finished driving piles into the bedrock which will support the foundation of South Beach and are beginning the vertical construction phase, which is much more visible to passers-by. South Beach will be move-in ready by late summer of 2008, said Smith.

Public relations officials representing Atlanta-based developers Curt Patton and Cortland Partners announced last month that Bienville would be the first new condominium development to start construction since Hurricane Katrina, with a ground breaking in July and completion by December 2008. But representatives were not aware of the lower-profile building going on at neighboring South Beach.

Colin Edelstein of Cortland Partners said being first was not the most important thing about his $63 million project at the site formerly occupied by Emerald Quality Inn.

“Bienville’s most distinguishing feature is it’s on the beach. Every single one of our units will have a panoramic Gulf view,” said Edelstein.

Several more condo-related announcements are expected this summer.

Ocean Club, which began construction prior to the storm, is only days away from completion, said Biloxi’s director of community development Jerry Creel.

The next condo project to reach completion is expected to be Beau View in the next two to three months, he said.

The next ground breaking after Bienville and South Beach is expected to be Bacaran Bay in the late summer or early fall, said Creel, after all the permits are issued.

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