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Gulf Coast Business Council Overstates Ownership Position in Purchase of Building for Non-Profit Organizations

By Keith Burton    GulfCoastNews.com  9/25/07

A recent announcement by the Gulf Coast Business Council regarding their plan to purchase the former Grand Casino/Harrah’s office building on Seaway Road in Gulfport overstates their role in the process and in the future ownership of the building, This is according to William Richardson, president/CEO of the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund.

The Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund was established by Governor Haley Barbour in the months after hurricane Katrina. The fund received monies generated by donations and from concerts, including those by Faith Hill and others, as well as money from the Clinton-Bush Hurricane Relief fund. The governor recently announced how more than $34 million dollars collected from the fund was going to be disbursed.

According to Richardson, interviewed by GulfCoastNews.com today, he confirmed that the fund is providing a $2 million grant to help in the purchase of the building, but the money is not going to the Gulf Coast Business Council.

“The Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund has given a restricted grant to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The restriction is that they have to provide me with a Deed of Trust indicating that the Gulf Coast Community Foundation has spent the money solely for the purchase of the building,” said Richardson.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation is a separate entity that is handling much of the grant money-funded projects dealing with the recovery on the Coast. It is not part of the Gulf Coast Business Council, though a number of its board members are also members of the Gulf Coast Business Council

Richardson said the Gulf Coast Business Council will not be the owners of the building, as the Council and several news reports have suggested. “The deed will not be to the Gulf Coast Business Council.”

“I want to be sure that they (the Gulf Coast Community Foundation) spend the $2 million the way they said they would, to buy the building and offer offices for the non-profit groups at rent-attractive rates,” Richardson told GCN. 

Regarding the media reports that the Gulf Coast Business Council was the agency buying the Harrah’s building, Richardson said, “I was very unhappy yesterday. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation is the only organization that will manage the $34 million in restricted grants. We have a very narrow view on what this money can be spent for.”

In an August 30th news release, the Gulf Coast Business Council said, “Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., has agreed to sell its administrative building located on Seaway Road in Gulfport to the Gulf Coast Business Council for the purpose of establishing a multi-tenant non-profit center. The purchase will be completed by the end of October.”

The Sun Herald reported this week, that the purchase of the building will cost $2 million and paid for by A $2 million grant from the nonprofit Knight Foundation and another $1 million from the Southern Company Charitable Trust

The newspaper’s story, Sept. 24, made no mention of the grant from the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund, though the news did acknowledge that money in a previous story on August 30.

According to the Sun Herald,  the Harrah’s building and the 13 acres it sits is being purchased for $2 million - well below an estimated value of $6 million. It will serve as home to nonprofits already located there and others are expected to move in.

Richardson says the building is a good buy but it will need extensive refurbishing to serve its proposed need as a home for the non-profit agencies that are there. Portions of the building reportedly flooded slightly during the high Katrina storm surge. Richardson said the renovations will likely cost several million more.

Regarding the Governor’s Hurricane Recovery Fund, Richardson told GCN, “We are not functional any more. We’ve shut our doors and closed our bank account.” The fund’s web site has also been shut down.

The Gulf Coast Business Council is a privately-formed not for profit organization and is not a governmental agency or affiliated with any government service. Its membership list is confidential and its activities are not open to the public or news media. It is reported to have nearly 180 members of area community leaders and high power business executives and attorneys.

The GCBC says its purpose is to “guide public policy,” but critics say the organization has too much influence on elected officials and is not registered as a lobbying organization, even though its members frequently lobby elected officials and governing agencies on a wide variety of topics. Sharper critics say the Gulf Coast Business Council takes credit for work and activities of other people and organizations and is actually run by just a few people.

More Information:

What is the Gulf Coast Business Council? - GCN Archive

Gulf Coast Business Council to Purchase Former Harrah's Building - GCN

Non Profits All Under One Roof - Sun Herald

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