Brown: Cato won’t tie up land

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A combination of new state gaming regulations and terms of agreements with the City of Natchez will prevent Charles Cato from tying up riverfront property without developing it.

That’s according to City Attorney Walter Brown and Gaming Commission spokeswoman Leanne Williams.

On Aug. 22, Cato and Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith signed a letter of intent to negotiation an option for four pieces of city property to place a riverboat casino, a hotel and related developments.

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Under his letter of intent with the city, Cato has until Oct. 22 to enter into an option or void the terms of the letter of intent. That option will last for 12 months. The option would be extended for another six months if the city determined Cato had made substantial progress toward getting the permits he needed to open a casino at the Roth Hill site.

Emerald Star would pay the city $100,000 at the execution of the option. And if the property is not developed within a reasonable time, &uot;he forfeits the $100,000,&uot; Brown said.

What’s a reasonable time? In order to apply for a permit to operate a casino, Cato would have to first seek site approval from the Gaming Commission.

After that meeting, he would have six months to submit a plan for the development to the commission or preliminary site approval would be revoked, Williams said.

Commission approval of site development plans requires an applicant present plans for a parking facility to hold at least 500 cars &045; plus additional facilities equal to at least the cost of the building the casino itself.

Such facilities can include hotels of 250 rooms or larger of at least a two-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide, theme parks, golf courses, marinas, tennis complexes, entertainment facilities, or any other facility approved by the commission.

Cato’s current letter of intent with the city provides for a hotel of 160 rooms.

And although the city has already furnished the Roth Hill site with utilities and a road, Cato would pick up the cost of any additional infrastructure work &045; and the cost of such work does not count toward its additional facilities.

Such facilities must be built at the same time the casino is being built.

Required such land-based facilities in addition to the casinos themselves &uot;makes it a lot less likely that (a developer) will pick up and leave town,&uot; Williams said.

After site development plan approval is given, Cato &045; doing business as Emerald Star Casino and Resort &045; would have one and a half years to construct the casino and related properties proposed to the commission, under state law.

&uot;So once he has the option, he has two years to get approval, construct and open for business&uot; his casino and related properties, Brown said, referring to Cato.

Cato, who also owns an interest in Greenville’s Lighthouse Point casino, has said he hopes to place a $20 million complex near the Natchez riverfront, including a casino at the foot of Roth Hill.

That development would also include a hotel across Canal Street from the convention center and a welcome center for the complex at the old railroad depot site.

The old Natchez Pecan Factory site would be used at first for staging of construction for the Emerald Star development and, after that, parking or other support services for the casino.