BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A judge has issued an order that blocks a company from starting construction on an entertainment pier on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Harrison County Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel issued the temporary restraining order Wednesday in a lawsuit that the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office filed in July 2019, the Sun Herald reported.
The state argues that before a pier can be built at the end of Veterans Avenue in Biloxi, a public trust tidelands lease is required through the secretary of state. The city disagrees. A hearing is set for May 5.
Once the hearing date was set, Biloxi put a resolution on the April 7 City Council agenda to lease land to RW Development, a company owned by Ray Wooldridge, former owner of the New Orleans Hornets NBA team. Council members unanimously adopted the resolution.
The lawsuit was filed when Delbert Hosemann was secretary of state, and it has continued since Michael Watson took office in January 2020.
Schloegel's order said neither Watson nor the City of Biloxi could convey a lease to anyone until the court decides the lawsuit. The judge said her order did not specifically restrain the city from negotiating the lease, but she said Biloxi’s vote does not allow the project to proceed while the lawsuit is pending.
RW Development operates Big Play Entertainment Center near the proposed pier, and the pier could provide a way to achieve the company’s decades-long quest to build a casino.
Mississippi law says casinos may be built over coastal waters or on land connected to coastal waters. State regulators have previously rejected casino proposals by RW Development, saying the company did not own or control land in the right place.
A city-approved lease says RW Development could build the pier but could not use it for a casino. Leasing the property to RW Development rather than the city could establish the company’s control of the property to the water’s edge.
RW Development proposes to build and operate dining, entertainment and recreational businesses on the pier. The company already has go-karts, bowling, miniature golf, laser tag and other family attractions in Biloxi.
Parts of Biloxi’s pier at Veterans Avenue is still in ruins more than 15 years after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.