Elvis’ Army uniform, found in Gulf, back for Hard Rock opening

Published 7:48 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Army uniform worn by Elvis Presley, which was found in the Mississippi Sound after Hurricane Katrina, will be on display when the Hard Rock Biloxi opens in July.

The uniform is among dozens of items strewn across the Mississippi coast after Katrina struck in August 2005.

B.B. King’s original guitar “Lucille” will return along with the guitars of Johnny Cash and KISS, said Joe Billhimer, the casino’s chief executive officer.

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Some of the rock ’n’ roll artifacts will be in pristine condition, but others will be part of a Katrina memorial collage. Everything else will be new and gleaming inside the casino resort, including a display in honor of James Brown.

“It’s a big deal for us to get back open, but we do think it’s also a big deal for people on the coast to see it back open,” said Billhimer. “It keeps revitalization going. It shows that we and a lot of others believe in the revitalization of the Coast.”

The Hard Rock was destroyed by Katrina two days before the casino was scheduled to open.

Bondholders who had financed the casino’s construction did not want to release insurance proceeds so contractors could be paid. Lawsuits were filed. New partners were brought in. The casino’s parent company, Premier Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy to gain access to the insurance money.

Throughout all those hurdles and with the legal disputes still being played out, the casino kept rebuilding. It’s an investment of $120 million that will provide jobs for more than 1,300 people.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t have a choice,” Billhimer said. “We had to do what we had to do. There’s a lot of other people on the coast in the same situation.”

Katrina brought a storm surge of almost 23 feet to the casino site. The casino now sits atop a combination of concrete pilings and steel columns. The concrete pilings are driven 90 feet down. It has 12 inches of concrete slab on top of that to anchor steel columns rising up to the casino.

The casino will have 1,453 slots, 50 table games and six poker tables.