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Harrah's Finalizes Sale of Administration Building To Non-Profit Group
Transfer of Ownership Papers Signed Friday

By Keith Burton - GCN 11/30/07 Updated

GCN has confirmed that Harrah's is signing papers today to convey their Seaway Road administrative building in Gulfport to a group of entities connected with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The purchasers include four entities, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Gulf Coast Business Council, the United Way of South Mississippi and the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, but that is not where the final ownership ends.

According to Rodger Wilder, president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the building is being sold for $2 million. GCN interviewed Wilder mid Friday morning and again in the afternoon.

Wilder says the actual ownership of the building will later be transferred to a yet-to-be formed separate group under the auspices of the Gulf Coast Business Council, but Wilder says the new group will have a board of directors that represents additional non-profit organizations and not just the Gulf Coast Business Council.

It is better to be jointly owned by various groups," Wilder said in a later interview with GCN.  "None of the organizations will have a controlling interest. We will have to work together."

Wilder told GCN that the Gulf Coast Business Council will not be on the final title of the property, as reported by GCN in a news report in September following an interview with William Richardson, the CEO of the Mississippi Katrina Fund, which donated $2 million to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to help purchase the building.  Richardson criticized an earlier announcement by the Gulf Coast Business Council regarding the Council's plan to purchase the former Grand Casino/Harrah’s office building on Seaway Road in Gulfport. The council overstated their role in the process and in the future ownership of the building.

"Richardson is correct," Wilder said. "The Gulf Coast Business Council will not be the title holder of the building."

However, Wilder said that a new entity called the Gulf Coast Research Foundation is being set up by the Gulf Coast Business Council to oversee the temporary management of the property.

Wilder told GCN that the name of another new organization that will eventually own and operate the building will be called the Gulf Coast Non Profit Center, Inc. That organization is still in the formation stage and it will take some time to establish. But eventually, the ownership of the building will be transferred to the new organization.

"A subsidiary of the Gulf Coast Business Council will operate the building," Wilder said. The management is already in place as they will be the same people that are involved now," Wilder said.

The Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund. headed by Richardson, 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.

Essentially, it appears the situation regarding the purchase and final ownership is a bit convoluted. Wilder said that some of the issues that made the purchase complicated dealt with legal and tax requirements associated with not-for-profit organizations. Until then, a board of directors that represents several organizations is already in place.

"All of the parties know where the money is and where it is going," Wilder said. "At the end of the day, the building will be owned by the four entities with a board made up by the right people," Wilder told GCN.

The building already houses a number of non-profit organizations that moved to the building after hurricane Katrina destroyed their offices across the Coast. Wilder says he believes eventually the building will become the home of more non-profit organizations.

"It is so well located," Wilder said. It is nearly in the geographic center of the Coast and it is near Interstate 10."

Currently, the building, which was once that administration building for the Grand Casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, houses the Boys and Girls Club, The United Way, The Gulf Coast Community Fund, the Harrison County Tourism Commission, the Gulf Coast Business Council, the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Renaissance Corporation and the Knight Foundation.

While the paper signing on the purchase of the property was held Friday, that is only the end of the beginning for what will become of the property. Renovations are needed. Harrah's was very generous to allow the Coast's non-profits to operate from the building after the hurricane, but it is not set-up to be the type of facility that is envisioned.

Wilder says they have nearly $5 million in funds right now to pay for improvements, and the possibility of getting another $1 million. Plans call for adding a 300 seat auditorium and a kitchen that can handle group meetings, even public meetings.

GCN will have more on this story in a future report.

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