Leaders review gaming, development plans

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Two competing groups provided the City of Natchez detailed proposals on Monday for their plans to open casinos and develop surrounding land at the base of Roth&8217;s Hill.

The mayor and board of aldermen in a scheduled work session heard from Natchez Riverfront Development Group and Lane Company. The meeting lasted nearly four hours and included drawings, charts, resumes, landscape designs, artist renderings of the proposed developments and economic impact projections.

The meeting was not a public hearing, and no questions were allowed from the crowd that filled the Council Chamber for the presentations.

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John Bell of the Lane Company, a real estate development company in Atlanta, stressed the diversity of experience in development his company would bring to the Roth Hill project.

&8220;We&8217;ve won every single national award in real estate, the top awards given in real estate,&8221; Bell said. The company has built a reputation of keeping its word, &8220;doing what we say we&8217;re going to do.&8221;

Willie J. Mott Jr. of

Natchez Riverfront Development of Jackson said his organization &8220;wants to take this land and make sure we get every inch of the land developed in its full capacity.&8221;

The two proposals differed in scope of development and in proposed budgets.

The Riverfront Development plan calls for four phases of construction during a three-year period with expenditures of $99 million and including residential and commercial components.

The Lane Company proposes a simple park-like landscape on approximately half of the 5.3-acre site with the remainder devoted to casino development. The budget is $48 million.

Riverfront Development projects an opening in six months following city approval of its project.

Lane Company estimates are that construction of its casino would be complete in November 2007.

Lane Company partners with Matt Walker and Fernando Cuquet, both experienced in casino development, in the Roth Hill project.

Walker, who opened Splash Casino in Tunica in 1992, said he wants &8220;to do something first-class in Natchez.&8221;

The team put together by Lane Company will &8220;do it right,&8221; Walker said.

&8220;They have the knowledge and the people to make it first class.&8221;

Dennis W. Miller, an attorney with Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis in Jackson, said his firm is experienced in gaming licensure and law and is &8220;prepared to go to the gaming commission and expedite the process of licensure.&8221;

Bell emphasized the long-term commitment Lane Company makes in a community. &8220;We&8217;re very community minded. Lane Company is not in and out of a community quickly.&8221;

Furthermore, Lane Company is in a position to finance the project completely, Bell said.

Natchez Riverfront Development Group already has begun the financing process and spent the greatest part of its presentation on the details of their financial plans.

Belinda Pedroso, a partner in Ascension Financial Inc., introduced some of the developers and financial consultants, including Harley A. Searcy, CEO of Alliance Property Group in Los Angeles.

Searcy said as a developer he is excited about the Roth Hill project proposed by Natchez Riverfront.

&8220;You&8217;ve got a great piece of dirt and you&8217;ve got culture and history,&8221; he said. &8220;I&8217;m mister implementation. We can get the job done.&8221;

David Hunt is casino owner in the Natchez Riverfront proposal. He has experience in casino operations in Mississippi, California and Louisiana, he said.

&8220;This casino will be incorporated right here in Mississippi and in Natchez,&8221; he said.

&8220;My wife-to-be and I will live in this city.&8221;

Natchez native Tony Gaylor, an attorney with Northington, Chambers & Gaylor in Jackson, is associated with the Natchez Riverfront Group.

&8220;Of course, we&8217;re an entity who wants to be responsible to the community, but we want to take it a step further,&8221; he said.

&8220;We want to assist the community by establishing a community development corporation and donating $200,000 a year to fund the corporation.&8221;

Riverfront Group projections show more than 2,000 jobs would be created during the construction and in the Roth Hill area when construction is completed.

&8220;I certainly don&8217;t remember the last time more than 2,000 jobs and a nearly $100 million project happened in Natchez,&8221; he said.