Monday, November 5, 2007

Update from the Mississippi Gulf Coast: New Waterpark/Hotel on the Way

There was some exciting news out of the Mississippi Gulf Coast last week, as this story in the Biloxi Sun-Herald unveiled Florida-based Sterling Resorts’ plans to build a $10 million “condotel” in Biloxi, dubbed Revelay resort, which will include a waterpark and arcade.

This is music to the ears of Larry Barnett, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission in nearby Gulfport and a leading economic official in the region. When I spoke with Barnett this summer for my cover story on the post-Katrina recovery effort in Mississippi, he told me the goal is to make the Gulf Coast a “top-tier destination” for tourism. The casinos are already doing big business in the area, but tourism officials there believe it’s going to take more family-oriented attractions (such as the already established Gulf Islands Waterpark in Gulfport) to seal the deal.

Revelay is a great first step, Barnett told me earlier today when I chatted with him to gauge his reaction to the new facility, set to open in 2009 or 2010.

“We need facilities like this so when families come to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they have activities,” Barnett said. “This is a great development for us. It demonstrates a confidence people have in our market and our tourism. Other [developers] should see that and maybe look a bit closer at the Gulf Coast. It’s a first step, and getting more facilities like that is critical for us as we go forward, where we can entertain the children as well as the adults.”

Barnett said he knows of at least one other project being talked about that is “not exactly” like the hotel/waterpark combo proposed by Revelay, but is along the same lines. It’s too early for him to say anything more, but “there are other family-oriented facilities looking,” he confirmed.

One thing is for sure: Barnett remains convinced the Mississippi Gulf Coast is heading in the right direction. “I’m feeling very good about how things are progressing,” he said. “When you look at our area, we’ve made a lot of progress. We spent a lot of time cleaning up and preparing for the future, and now we’re in that rebuilding mode. I feel real good about what the future’s going to bring.”

Barnett and another member of his staff will be attending IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007 next week, and their focus is recruiting new attractions and investors to the Gulf Coast. He believes the region has huge potential for growth in multiple areas, including family-friendly amusements and attractions.

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