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Casino approval in limbo

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Natchez City Planner Bob Nix and preservation committee chairperson Marty Seibert, left, listen as architect Edward A. Vance discusses plans for the soon-to-be Magnolia Bluffs Casino during the Natchez Preservation Commission meeting Wednesday night at the Natchez City Council Chambers. Further discussion of the casino will be held in a preservation meeting Jan. 12.

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Preservation Commission heard a presentation, voiced concerns and ultimately delayed any action Wednesday night on the proposed Roth Hill casino.

The commission unanimously voted to continue the public hearing on the Magnolia Bluffs Casino design approval to its next meeting on Jan. 11. The commission’s vote also required the casino’s developers, Premier Gaming, to have work sessions with members of the Historic Natchez Foundation to work on a design more compatible with Natchez’s historical architecture.

Only a handful of seats in the Natchez City Council Chambers were empty as several concerns about the casino’s overall design, lighting, landscape and the general approval process were voiced by both commissioners and

nearly 50 people, Paris Winn, center, and Alderman Dan Dillard, right, attended the meeting Wednesday.

community members.

The casino’s architect Ed A. Vance made a Powerpoint presentation at the meeting showing design plans for the casino. Vance, Premier Gaming Group’s President Kevin Preston and project manager Dennis McAvoy fielded questions from the audience and commissioners.

Vance’s presentation indicated changes from the previously approved casino, including less cypress siding, fewer windows and a porte cochére that is no longer gabled as it was in previous plans.

Natchez resident Gwen Ball said the building was not what Natchezians had waited for as she questioned why all the changes had been made since the public last saw casino design plans. Ball said she suspected the changes were made to lower project costs and would like developers to remember that the casino site is treasured because it is the last remaining public riverfront property.

“When you do your design work, I want to see you give us the best you can give us,” she said. “I don’t care what it costs you … we’re making sacrifices so you can have it for your profits.”

Ed Gaudet said he was concerned that the light from the casino would be dangerous to boats and barges traveling along the river. He asked Vance if the project had received the adequate approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, and Vance said it had.

Larry “Butch” Brown said he was under the impression from a source he has in Jackson that the Coast Guard had not given approval and noted several other concerns in the casino’s approval process.

Architect Edward A. Vance discusses plans for the casino.

“I’m not saying I’m for or against you,” he said. “I’m looking for information, as I’m going to be a (mayoral) candidate in a few months, and I don’t want to inherit this problem.”

Commission members also voiced concerns about landscaping and the visibility and design of the parking garage and service truck entrances and mechanical structures.

Vance said changes were made to the design of the casino, as always happens with large projects, because parts of the previous plans “just didn’t work.” Vance noted that the building’s roof was modeled after barns in Minnesota, where he is from.

Commissioner Shirley Petkovsek said she did not understand why the previous plans were not adequate.

“You thought that they worked before, but now you don’t?” she asked Vance. “We were ready to go with the building we had approved.”

Commissioner Tony DeAngelis said he did not understand why the developers scrapped the previous design that the commission had approved only to start over.

All the commissioners agreed that there was not sufficient information about design aspects nor did they feel comfortable with the casino’s design, and Liz Dantone made the motion to continue the hearing.

“My main concern is that . . . this is historic Natchez, and it should be designed according to historic Natchez not to North Dakota or Minnesota … it should be what we want to look at and what people here will want to look at,” Commissioner Valencia Hall said.

Dantone asked McAvoy how far continuing the hearing would put the project behind.

McAvoy said the project had received approval for pile caps for the garage pilings and pin piles for the casino from building inspector Fred Galler and could continue that work.

Nix said he was only aware of one permit the project had for pilings for the parking garage’s foundation. Nix said because of the complexity and large scale of the project, code permit applications have been being sent to the International Code Council in Chicago because the planning department does not have the specifically qualified staff to approve the permits.

“Our internal procedures may have been violated, and I am very concerned with that,” he said.

Nix said after the meeting he would look into the matter and see what permits had been granted.

In other news from the meeting:

- The commission unanimously voted to deny the installation of dryer exhaust vents at the proposed coin laundry service in the old Goodyear building on Main Street. The commission also required the laundry service’s developers to repair and restore the 16 holes that were knocked into the building for the vents.