BILOXI, MS-Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. is ready to press forward on its next project, the 46-acre Margaritaville Casino & Resort. The $700-million first phase, which will involve revamping the vacant 378-room Casino Magic Biloxi, will begin in the summer.

Harrah’s, teaming with Jimmy Buffett, has penciled summer 2010 for the grand opening. Harrah’s obtained the property at 195 Beach Blvd. in a property and license swap last summer with Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. A spokesman for the Las Vegas-based Harrah’s says the project will include renovation of the existing hotel rooms and an addition of 420 rooms.

The first phase will include a 100,000-sf casino, full-service spa and 66,000 sf of meeting space. Harrah’s is partnering as well with Simon Property Group Inc. to develop 250,000 sf of retail space on the site as well. The Indianapolis-based developer plans to bring a similar concept as its Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to Biloxi.

The Harrah’s spokesman says the Margaritaville Casino & Resort represents the single largest investment in the state since Hurricane Katrina. “Margaritaville Casino & Resort represents Harrah’s ongoing commitment to, and vision for, Biloxi, the tourism industry in Mississippi, and the regeneration of the entire Gulf Coast,” Charles Atwood, Harrah’s vice chairman, says in a press release about the project. “We are pleased that Simon Property Group, the largest retail real estate company in North America, will be partnering with us to deliver such a significant retail development to the Gulf Coast area.”

The spokesman tells there is room for further development, which could raise the investment to roughly $1 billion. But right now, the focus is on getting the initial phase of Margaritaville Casino & Resort up and running. “Right now we have the single, largest footprint in Biloxi,” he adds. “There’s room for more growth both on the north and south sides of Highway 90.”

Buffett grew up on the Gulf Coast. “I have seen the best and the worst of times along Mississippi Sound,” he says, “and as a survivor of storms myself, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude and good fortune to be part of the rebirth of the region.”

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