Developers of a Gulfport Harbor casino want to delay by two months the timeline they told city officials they would meet for final Gaming Commission approval and the start of construction.
The Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, which owns a portion of the harbor property where the casino would be built, will consider the request at a meeting next week.
A two-month delay would mean developers would request permission to build from the state Gaming Commission early next year and begin construction in the spring.
Virginia attorney Robert Lubin told city leaders the project could be delayed over financing. Mississippi Coast Entertainment LP, headed by Lubin and Kevin Preston of Magnolia Bluffs Casino-Hotel in Natchez, needs more time because of uncertainty over the future of an investment program the partnership is using to finance the casino.
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Chinese investors have grown anxious because an offshoot of the federal EB-5 program being used expires at the end of September. Many are waiting to see if the program will be renewed. An investor pays $500,000 for a partnership in a project with the expectation 10 jobs will be created. In exchange, the investor gets a green card that entitles him or her to permanent U.S. residency.
The program Lubin’s group uses, a regional-center version of EB-5, allows counting of indirect jobs in addition to the permanent full-time jobs that must be created under the regular EB-5 program. Word is the regional program will be renewed, Lubin said, increasing investor confidence. The casino project so far has 18 investors with 70 to 80 needed to complete financing.
Lubin discussed the project privately for about an hour with a couple of GRC members and several members of the City Council. Neither public body had a quorum, so the meeting was closed. Lubin talked to the Sun Herald after the meeting.
He also was scheduled to speak with the two other harbor property owners who are part of the 60-year casino lease, Marine Life and Misco Marine. The casino partnership has been making $80,000 per month lease payments since June. Those payments would climb to include a cut of casino revenue after the doors open.
Lubin said he is confident the EB-5 program will be renewed, but if it is not, the future of the casino project is uncertain. He feels strongly that Gulfport can support two casinos. His project, as yet unnamed, would join Island View Casino Resort on U.S. 90.
Mississippi Coast Entertainment plans an investment of $140 million to $160 million, which would build a casino smaller than Island View and a hotel with 300 rooms. The city has tried for years to secure a casino for the harbor, but past deals have fallen through.
Lubin said he believes the harbor property is the only potential site left in Gulfport where a profitable casino could be built.
“To me,” he said, “the only place to be is on the water.”