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Economy forces scaleback of Gulf casino plans

The stagnant economy has forced Mark Seymour Sr. into what government agencies, environmentalists and Hurricane Katrina could not: making changes in his plans for his proposed casino.

Seymour, who has worked on the project for 17 years, will take a new plan to the D’Iberville Planning Commission and the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Seymour says he and his partners, Terry Moran and Leland Mitchell, are talking to three groups of developers about building the resort directly west of Interstate 110 on Back Bay of Biloxi.

He said he’ll have all the permits in place so all the developers have to do is bring the financing.

The new design still calls for a 60,000-square-foot casino, but now it’s atop a parking garage with a roof that will glow at night.

A French Market fronting the water also made the redesign with a multistory glass entry. Seymour sees it bustling with vendors peddling fresh flowers and vegetables. Above that would be stores and restaurants, including a buffet and a steak house.

A harbor and marina would allow guests to arrive by water and a new interstate ramp and wider access road would move the estimated 2,500 visitors per day into the casino.

A hotel is planned north of the casino, but Seymour eliminated condos because the market has faded since he drew the original plans.

He estimates the casino resort would need 500 to 800 employees.

By downsizing and removing the condos, he says his new design would cut costs from $300 million to $200 million.

Besides being the first casino drivers would see heading toward Biloxi on I-110, “We’re the best protected site,” he said.

That area of Back Bay saw a 14-foot rise in the tide during Katrina instead of the storm surge that hit the beach. Seymour said he’s elevated all the occupied structures 20 feet.

Seymour envisions an ambitious time line if a developer signs on to the project.

If site clearing and infrastructure work could begin this spring and pilings for the parking garage be driven this summer, then Seymour hoped his casino could open by the end of 2010.