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Casino OK was moment of vindication

For all who had the patience, persevered in the face of doubt and had faith in the process, Thursday morning’s unanimous vote by the Mississippi Gaming Commission to grant Magnolia Bluffs Casino its gaming license was a vindication of sorts.

Chief among them was former mayor Jake Middleton. When the final vote was taken and the crowd erupted in applause, Middleton gave casino developer Kevin Preston a big thumbs up.

Former mayor Phillip West, who was also in the crowd, was visibly happy. The idea that the bottom of Roth Hill could be used for such a development began with his administration.

When the plans for the casino were unveiled in December 2006, former mayor West and the board of aldermen fully expected a new development to be open in a year or two.

The naysayers said it would never happen. Who can blame them, with all of the broken promises and changes that this development has endured? Amid one of the worst recessions in U.S. history, the names and faces of the developer changed. Ted Doody and the Lane Company were replaced by Kevin Preston and Premier Gaming.

The lease to Preston and his group was called into question numerous times, including during a particularly bruising battle over the third amendment to the contract.

All the while, Middleton expressed unwavering confidence that the casino would, indeed, become a reality. Month after month, residents anticipated that Premier Gaming would finally get the green light for construction during the gaming commission’s regular meetings, only to find the developer’s name missing from the agenda.

Unfortunately, Thursday’s vote happened six-months too late for Middleton. Had Premier Gaming been able to get its license and open its doors in the first half of 2012, Middleton might have been able to win re-election.

The man who defeated him in June, current Mayor Butch Brown, sat in front of the commission as chairman John M. Hairston offered Brown thanks for all the time he had spent on the project. Of course, Brown is only five months into his four-year term. Of the three mayors who have shepherded the project through the process, Middleton spent more time than West and Brown combined.

Still, Thursday’s vote offered Middleton the “I told you so” moment for which he must have been waiting.

Vindication was not just for Middleton Thursday morning. Naysayers have said all throughout the process that our preservation and planning approval process would chase the developers away. Instead the process has produced what chairman Hairston complimented as a project of uncompromising quality featuring architectural detailing that makes it a casino unlike any other in the state.

It and the Isle of Capri’s steamboat-inspired casino not only blend in with Natchez and its historical precedents, the design makes the casinos stand out among its peers in the state.

Our preservation review process and the volunteer efforts behind it on city commissions and at the Historic Natchez Foundation demonstrated that the process can work.

There is little doubt that Thursday’s approval of Magnolia Bluffs Casino was a good day for Natchez. But it was especially good for those who have persevered in the face of the naysayers who said it would never happen.

For them, two words on the back of the Magnolia Bluffs Casino T-shirts in the crowd said it all. “Game On!”

 

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.