Natchez aldermen vote to notify casino of failure to comply

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

NATCHEZ — Casino talk filled the air at the Natchez Aldermen meeting Tuesday night as the board voted to support a motion to notify Natchez Enterprises that the development group has failed to comply to the financial agreement both parties entered into in 2008.

The board voted 5-1 in favor of the motion, with alderman Bob Pollard voting against it.

Natchez Enterprises is an affiliate of the Lane Company, which now works with and helps fund Premier Gaming for the project.

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Alderman Dan Dillard said that on Feb. 21, 2008, the Mississippi Gaming Commission granted approval to Natchez Enterprises to proceed with development on the casino if they produced signed financial documents for the project.

“They never produced them,” he said. “That is the closest we have gotten to proceeding with the development.”

Dillard said the contract says it expires after six months if the company fails to make “substantial progress.” Substantial progress is defined in the contract as gaining site development plan approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Dillard said Natchez Enterprises has failed to comply with the option agreement, and actions need to be taken.

“It has now gone beyond any level of expectation as to how long this will go on,” he said. “This is giving notice that we don’t believe they have made enough progress.”

Dillard said the main problem he has with the company’s lack of progress stems from the lease of the land for the casino.

“The truth of the matter is that these guys, when asked, say they have a 99-year lease,” he said. “The whole deal was contingent upon them getting their finances in order, and they didn’t.”

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said he wanted to make sure the board understood the importance of the vote before they decided.

“I just want the board to understand that there are not a lot of casinos being built right now anywhere,” he said. “If we have to start over, we are looking at another two years down the road before anything can happen.”

Middleton said there is always an interested party for building the casino, but when finances are brought up, the interest fades.

“This is a business,” he said. “Think about what (Premier Gaming) has put into the project. If it isn’t working for them, then they aren’t making money either.”

Middleton said the company has put approximately $4 million into the project already, and recent talks with Premier Gaming have gone well.

“After speaking with them, they said things were picking up speed,” he said. “There are two groups interested in helping fund the project, and they said they were really close to what they felt like would be a deal.”

In other news:

4 Alderman Tony Fields spoke to the board about giving assistance to residents of Brumfield Apartments and Oak Towers Apartments.

Oak Towers has also served as a building where Catholic Charities has carried out several successful programs to help the community, Fields said.

Managers and owners of the Brumfield School Apartments recently abandoned both of the buildings, leaving the residents who occupied the building with nowhere to go.

Former manager and owner of the apartments, Stafford Management Industry, slipped letters under residents’ doors Jan. 27 and in the mayor’s mailbox Jan. 25 saying they will no longer be running the building starting Feb. 1.

Fields said since the tenants of Brumfield were abandoned by their owners, he has spoken with Natchez Water Works and the local power companies so they can continue to provide services.

“Our first responsibility is to make sure the short-term needs of those participating in these programs will not be adversely impacted,” he said. “We need such services to continue to be provided until the program is closed down at least on a temporary basis or until something more successful can be brought on line the city, or preferably by the present owners or other developers.”

Fields said on March 31 the buildings and programs will be at least temporarily shut down, requiring residents to relocate.

“We are working to get the residents of Brumfield out of there and into appropriate housing,” he said. “Anyone who is affected by this needs to make sure they apply for their transfer voucher from through the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority. It is very important that you do that.”

Fields said the residents need any help they can get to get through this difficult situation.

“Manpower, trucks, financial assistance, anything at all will help,” he said. “It is not right to ask them to relocate, and it just be on them.”

4 The board voted unanimously to award Jordan Kaiser and Sessions the bid for engineering services for Daisy Street for a community development block grant.

4 The board also opened bids for a contract to mow and trim select city streets, including John Quitman Road, Liberty Road, Memorial Park and the river bluff.

The board took eight bids ranging from $23,120 to $135,000.