Planning Commission sees casino drawings

Published 12:21 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — Premier Gaming Group presented a pictorial update to the Natchez Planning Commission this week on progress made toward the development of the Roth Hill casino project.

Project architect Edward Vance showed three-dimensional renderings of both the exterior and interior of the planned casino.

Vance said much attention to detail has gone into the plans for the casino.

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“It is going to be a state-of the-art-casino that will send the (Isle of) Capri down the river,” he said.

Vance and other project representatives attended the meeting but did not outline a construction schedule or give a projected start date.

“Every discipline in this project moves at a different pace,” Vance said. “We’ve been working hard though you wouldn’t know that from what the press says.”

The group did present a traffic analysis to the planning commission, a necessary step to maintain project approval from the commission, City Planner Robert Nix said.

“We can take that item off of the list of what they needed to do,” Nix said.

The traffic analysis will now be reviewed by Nix and the planning department as well as City Engineer David Gardner, and Premier Gaming will be made aware of any changes or additions needed, Nix said.

The commission approved architectural renderings for the project in January.

The project also received approval from the Natchez Preservation Commission in January.

During the most recent presentation to the planning commission, Vance also showed images of the topography of the Mississippi River and how the casino will be supported on the riverbed.

Vance said much time has been spent making sure the structural support for the casino is done correctly.

“The topography of this area is one of the toughest I’ve dealt with,” Vance said. “It is made more difficult by the fact that we will be hanging halfway over the river.”

Premier Gaming Group President Kevin Preston said working on the structural support has been one of the most time consuming aspects of the project.

“The biggest issue is the structural component has been so difficult to get our arms around,” he said.

But Preston ensured the commission the group wasn’t just sitting around waiting. He said every person involved is working toward the same goal — breaking ground.

“We are getting all of this done now, so we can start as soon as the river allows,” Preston said.

Preston said, ideally, the river level needs to be at 40 feet or lower to start installing the piling system to support the casino’s weight over the river.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers recorded the river level at 22.24 feet above gauge zero at Natchez pass Saturday.

Gauge zero is 17.28 feet above the riverbed.

Attempts to discuss casino progress with Preston outside of the planning commission meeting were unsuccessful. Preston said through e-mail he planned to meet with city officials, in addition to the planning commission.

“The problem is when we update, the positives don’t get out,” Preston said in an e-mail. “(It’s) evident from the last few articles. We will update the city and planning but that’s all we can commit to right now.”

An e-mail request for a list of positive developments that have not been publicized was not returned.

Preston said in another e-mail that he believes the lease with the city is valid, an issue the Natchez Board of Aldermen has discussed at two recent meetings

“As far as the lease, it is in place, and there is no timeline,” the e-mail said.

Construction also can’t start before Premier Gaming receives approval to proceed from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

The group is not on the agenda for the October meeting.

Allen Godfrey, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission would not disclose if Premier Gaming was on the November agenda.

“I can tell you that we have been in contact with them,” Godfrey said.

The group has until the end of October to submit a request to be on the November meeting agenda.

Godfrey said before construction can begin any company seeking to build a casino in Mississippi has to have two separate approvals from the gaming commission.

The first is a site approval that simply says the property is zoned for a casino development. The Roth Hill project received that approval in September 2007, Godfrey said.

Site approvals do not expire. Approvals to proceed have a three-year shelf life.

To receive approval to proceed, Godfrey said projects must present a credible commitment of financing and evidence to support that commitment, project infrastructure reports, letters of support for affected agencies, current project financial statements, a construction schedule and a signed construction agreement.

Godfrey said the commission would look at the construction schedule and construction agreement to see if the dollar amounts seem feasible.

Godfrey said letters of support could be needed from city and county governments, the Army Corp of Engineers, Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies.

“Obviously some of these don’t apply,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey said he has been working with the Roth Hill project since its inception, and said they were just one of the projects around the state that has lagged.

“I’m going to tell you there are a number sites that haven’t gotten to the point (Premier Gaming) has,” Godfrey said. “Getting money has been an issue for the last two-and-a-half to three years. We have at least heard from this group from time to time.”