by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | July 01, 2007

Almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, the unusually quiet Mississippi Gulf Coast is ready for a dramatic comeback, with a new advertising campaign and a slew of development projects in the works.

“What we’ll have now is a better Gulf Coast,” said Stephen Richer, executive director for the Mississippi Gulfcoast Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are no longer that sleepy little town that happened to have gaming. We are being transformed into a top-tier destination.”

Among the projects underway are the 318-room Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi, which at press time was set to open on July 7 with 1,500 slot machines and five restaurants. Plus, a $180 million expansion of the 731-room Isle of Capri Casino Resort in Biloxi will debut next May and include an additional casino, restaurant and bars. The property’s original 45,000 square feet of meeting space, now used for gaming, will be restored by May 2009.

This past May, Casino giant Harrah’s Entertainment announced it had partnered with songwriter Jimmy Buffet to develop a Margaritaville Casino & Resort. The $1 billion project, to be built on the site of the former Grand Casino and Casino Magic, will feature 798 new and renovated rooms and 66,000 square feet of meeting space. Set to break ground later this year, it is expected to be completed by 2010.

In the meantime, the long-awaited expansion and renovation of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center finally will get underway later this year, according to Richer. That project will add approximately 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, bringing the center’s
total exhibit and meeting space to 380,000 square feet.

“There is so much investment and rebuilding going on,” said Richer. “When the work is finished, we will have more exhibit space, more meeting space, more casinos and even more air lift. We will be competing with Las Vegas.”