Mayor sets own casino deadline

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 8, 2010

NATCHEZ — Mayor Jake Middleton has set his own groundbreaking date for the $48 million casino development at the foot of Roth Hill.

“I want them working by the end of August,” Middleton said Wednesday. “That may not be their goal, but that’s my goal.”

The question of whether developers will meet Middleton’s deadline is unclear.

Last month, Premier Gaming Group President Kevin Preston addressed the Natchez Planning Commission, offering a brief update on the 45,000-square-foot-space. Preston said Premier Gaming was working to acquire a bond from the Lane Company, which initially oversaw the casino development, for the park and the botanical garden that will complement the space. Preston said the park and botanical garden will cost approximately $1 million to develop.

Preston first appeared before the Natchez Preservation Commission in January to seek approval for new architectural renderings. Both the preservation commission and the planning commission approved the renderings in January.

At that time, Preston said plans would be submitted to the Mississippi Gaming Commission by Jan. 26 — the deadline to be placed on the commission’s February meeting agenda.

In February, the rise of the Mississippi River postponed Premier Gaming’s plans. At that time, Preston said construction was slated for completion in January 2011.

Because the construction schedule had to be revised to accommodate the rising river, Preston said he would not submit plans to the Mississippi Gaming Commission until its March meeting.

Preston later said Premier Gaming would submit plans to the Mississippi Gaming Commission in April. Last month, Preston would not give a definite timeline for when Premier Gaming would submit plans.

Efforts to reach Preston Wednesday were unsuccessful.

It’s been three and a half years since the City of Natchez first announced the casino development, which was then led by the Lane Company. The Lane Company expected to finish the first phase of construction by November 2007. The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted to lease Roth Hill to the Lane Company in December 2006.

Middleton said he hasn’t spoken to Preston recently, and he can’t fathom delaying construction for much longer.

“As you well know, there’s been some changes in the project — the people in charge, the economy and the redesigning of the project,” Middleton said.

“I think we’ve been working on this long enough, and I think it’s time we get some shovels in the ground. When I spoke to (Preston) last, he said, ‘We’re on top of it.’ We want you on top of it, but we also want you under the hill breaking ground.”