GULFPORT -- A Virginia attorney flew into town Tuesday night to say he plans to build a $140 million casino resort in the harbor -- and has a contract to buy the derelict Markham Hotel downtown, which he will renovate for offices or apartments.
Attorney Robert Lubin, who specializes in creating investment opportunities for foreigners seeking visas, said an investment of $140 million is planned for the casino resort. The investment in the Markham is pegged at $30 million.
Lubin said he was scoping out the Markham property, vacant since 2005's Hurricane Katrina, when his casino partner, Kevin Preston of Premier Gaming Group, found out about the casino
site. The city has been trying for years to land a casino resort for the harbor.
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"This is a great day for Gulfport and the Coast," Mayor Billy Hewes said.
Lubin said he already has the Markham under contract. Terms of a lease for the city's 3.4-acre harbor property is being negotiated with the city's urban-renewal agency, the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission. The City Council also must approve the lease, Hewes said.
The casino resort would have a 300-room, four-star hotel, entertainment venue, parking garage and an unannounced extra amenity.
The resort would be built on the west side of Gulfport's harbor, where previous plans for a casino have failed to materialize. The city has teamed with property owners Marine Life and Misco Marine to offer a total of more than 10 acres for the resort.
Earlier Tuesday evening, the council discussed terms of a proposed casino lease in a closed session that lasted more than two hours. Lubin arrived for the last 30 minutes of the meeting, rain dripping from his suit. Problems on two commercial flights had forced him to book a charter from New Orleans to Gulfport.
As an attorney, Lubin specializes in working with foreign clients who are seeking EB-5 visas. Foreign investors can secure permanent residency through the program by investing $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the area, in a U.S. business venture. Lubin's law firm -- Lubin, Salvetti & Associates -- had put together 27 major development projects by April 2014, according to its website.
The EB-5 projects include Magnolia Bluffs Casino, which opened in December 2012 in Natchez with $23 million raised from 46 investors; the historic Eola Hotel, also in Natchez and currently closed for redevelopment; and the Hilton Garden Inn in Pascagoula. The website says 12 investors spent $6 million on Hilton Garden Inn.
The Eola had several investors and capital of $6 million, but other investors were being sought at the time the list was last updated. The historic Eola is being renovated for senior apartments.
Rubin and Preston also are partners in Magnolia Bluffs in Natchez, where the Isle of Capri had been operating. The Isle of Capri closed in October, selling its hotel and other non-gambling assets to Magnolia Bluffs' parent company, according to the Natchez Democrat newspaper.
The Gulfport Redevelopment Commission selected Lubin's casino proposal over two others, Mayor Hewes confirmed, including one from Island View Casino Resort.
Hewes said Lubin already has a state gaming license through Magnolia Bluffs.
"He had the best presentation," Hewes said. "He committed the largest investment. He has to a great degree already been vetted. I think that was part of the appeal, too."
The Mississippi Gaming Commission must approve plans for the casino resort. Preston said he hopes a proposal will be before the commission within 90 days. If approval is granted, resort construction should take about 1½ years.
Lubin said he plans to start construction on the Markham this summer and complete the project in 15 to 18 months.