Gulf Coast Business Council to Purchase Harrah's Building
by Keith Burton GCN 9/30/07
The Gulf Coast Business Council plans to soon purchase the former Harrah's Building on Seaway Road in Gulfport for its own use and that of other agencies. The building formerly served as the headquarters for Grand Casinos' operations, but since Katrina, the building has been the home of nearly a dozen non-profit and county organizations that lost their offices as a result of Katrina.
According to the Sun Herald newspaper, whose publisher Ricky Mathews is a member of the council, money for the purchase is coming from a $2 million grant from Governor Haley Barbour's hurricane recovery fund and another $1 million from the Southern Company Charitable Trust. Several members of the Gulf Coast Business Council, a private not-for-profit company, are employees of Mississippi Power, a Southern Company division.
The Sun Herald reports:
"Our objective is to reduce the operating costs of these organizations and increase their capacity to serve," said Anthony Topazi, chairman of the business council and CEO of Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company."
The actual result would place the Gulf Coast Business Council, an organization whose members are not elected officials, in a much more influential position affecting a wide range of agencies in Harrison County. The council often lobbies public officials on issues affecting the Coast though it is not registered as a lobbying organization with the state. In a past interview, the council's Executive Director Brian Sanderson said the council seeks "to direct public policy."
The Sun Herald reports that the 70,000 sq.ft. building is being sold nearly $5 million lower than its actual value, but the actual price was not disclosed in the article.
Agencies that are in the building currently include:
While the agencies are already in the building, GCN has learned that the Gulf Coast Business Council will be charging rent and hopes to add additional tenants. The Council has been seeking to get the Harrison County Development Commission as a tenant. The HCDC had its offices in the Hancock Bank tower in Gulfport before Katrina damaged the tower. Several members of the HCDC board are employees of Mississippi Power. A decision has not been made by the HCDC regarding renting space in the building, according to Richard Bennett, the current chairman of the HCDC.
As a private organization, the Gulf Coast Business Council is not a government agency, nor was it organized as a governmental entity. Its members are by invitation only and its membership list is proprietary. The council is not a chamber of commerce. The financial records of the council are not subject to government audit and review, except those required by non-profit organizations. The Gulf Coast Business Council reportedly has nearly 180 members that includes a few of the most influential business executives and lawyers on the Coast. It was formed after Katrina and replaced Coast 21, a group that was widely criticized for promoting its own agenda. The meetings of the council are not open to the public or the media in general and its minutes are not public records.