The Mississippi Gulf Coast Is Back in Business

New casino-resorts and golf courses, headliner entertainment, celebrity chefs...When Stephen Richer, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, met with Travel Agent in our offices recently, his message was clear: the Mississippi Gulf Coast region is open for business. Richer says that while there is still some rebuilding to be done, Gulfport and Biloxi have already come a long way, due in large part to an influx of public and private investments and the more than 500,000 volunteers (a.k.a. "voluntourists") who have come from all over the world to help the area rebound from Hurricane Katrina. The current room inventory is about 10,500 out of the 17,500 that were available pre-Katrina. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi opens on July 7

Casinos and golf courses are leading the way as far as new development is concerned. Ten casinos are currently open, having (for the most part) moved away from the riverboats and gone to a land-based model, and gaming revenue has already returned to pre-Katrina levels. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi will open on July 7 with a performance by Kid Rock. The resort will have 318 rooms, 1,500 slots, 50 table games, five restaurants, the Hard Rock Café, a full service spa and fitness center, a theater and retail shops.

IP Casino Resort Spa has announced a $100 million land acquisition and expansion. The Isle of Capri Biloxi Casino Resort is in the second phase of a $180 million expansion project. Perhaps the biggest news, however, is Harrah's plans to collaborate with musician Jimmy Buffett to build a $704 million Margaritaville Casino & Resort in Biloxi. The property will have 798 hotel rooms, a spa, pool, casino and retail and meeting space. It is slated to open in 2010.

There are 20 golf courses along the Mississippi Gulf coast that are open for play, including the Jack Nicklaus-designed Grand Bear Golf Course and two new additions: Jerry Pate's Preserve Golf Club in Vancleave and Tom Fazio's Fallen Oak in Biloxi.

Another first for the region is the arrival of celebrity chefs: Todd English owns and operates Olives out of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, and before the end of the summer, Emeril Lagasse will open Emeril's New Orleans Fish House in The Island View Casino Resort.

—Dan Butcher