Casino Case Study: Back In Business

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the July 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Located on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, MS, Beau Rivage Resort & Casino has welcomed guests since 1999. When it opened, the facility, which featured a 32-story hotel tower, was recognized as one of the tallest buildings in the state of Mississippi.

A wholly owned subsidiary of MGM MIRAGE, the impressive structure can still claim this distinction today; however, it has undergone a major transformation since its opening eight years ago. Unfortunately, the changes were brought about by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tidal surges on August 29 of that year pounded properties along the Gulf shoreline in Biloxi, and Beau Rivage was one of those in the path of destruction.

Says Tony Mancini, senior vice president of capital improvements with MGM MIRAGE Design Group, “On my first visit, to step through the porte cochere [the entrance on the street side] and see the Gulf of Mexico in front of me was pretty breathtaking. The Gulf side of the property was completely annihilated. The casino floor was gone, and all the exterior walls had been torn off.”

Five connected barges, which housed the casino area as well as restaurants and retail stores, had been lifted out of the Gulf and pushed onto land toward the property by the storm surge. The retail stores and restaurants in the casino area were heavily damaged.

On land, the first two levels of the property’s parking garage were, in essence, washed away. The marina also sustained substantial damage.

On the street side, the main entrance was heavily damaged. Though that area escaped a direct hit from the tidal surge, flooding and hurricane winds had swept away most of the landscaping there. What did remain were 20 or so live oak trees lining the drive to Beau Rivage. Recognized as a symbol of strength in the region, these trees were nurtured during the recovery and grace the entryway once again.

A Strong Resolve

The recovery effort began almost immediately after the storm subsided. While the management team worked to locate and communicate with employees, cleanup crews stabilized the site.

Power supply was just one issue that needed to be addressed, since the central energy plant, located on the casino barge, was not operational. “Beyond the loss of power,” says Mancini, “the plant being down created a whole series of problems in regard to how to remediate the building and make it a clean environment. The cleanup crews installed numerous tubes to circulate air throughout the building to address this.”

Throughout the project, about 100 Beau Rivage employees worked on the site, with many being hired by contractors. One department that remained operational was food and beverage. With few open restaurants in the area, the in-house staff had to prepare food for the daily workers.

Demolition and cleanup lasted for several months, with the process ending in early 2006. However, MGM MIRAGE did not wait until then to begin planning the rebuild. Just days after Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, the company decided it would reopen Beau Rivage on August 29, 2006—the first anniversary of the storm.

As the cleanup progressed, the team mapped out the “new and improved” Beau Rivage. This process began with the MGM MIRAGE Design Group (MMDG), the in-house services company overseeing design, development, and procurement for MGM’s resort properties. Mancini explains, “The first step was to understand the needs and expectations of the resort’s president and leadership team. As we defined the components of the rebuild, it was a very collaborative process within MMDG, Gensler, Tishman, Yates Construction, external design firms, the operations staff, corporate support, and Bobby Baldwin, our president and CEO.”

One of the initial tasks in the 2.6 million square foot redesign was to decide if the casino barges would be repaired or if the operation would be moved onto land. Prior to the hurricane, Mississippi law required casinos to be located on the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi River. However, this changed in October 2005 with the legislature no longer requiring casinos to be on the water. Still, MGM MIRAGE decided to return the casino to the water and repair and reinforce the barge network.

The interior of the barges need to be repaired and that work was commissioned. “The footprint of the barges—300′ x 500’—remained the same,” explains Mancini. “However, we reconfigured the floor plan and the adjacencies. The biggest opportunity for us was to rethink the casino floor layout.”

Space planning and aesthetics were part of this process. Wider walkways were specified to streamline movement, and the decor of the 75,000 square foot casino floor, including ceilings, lighting, and carpeting, were all chosen for an update.

The layout of the casino area was reconfigured as well. The renovation gave elevated prominence to the high limit room, with that section raised above the base floor level. A dedicated poker room was included as well. The casino had opened in 1999 with a space for poker, but converted it to a smoke-free area in 2000. The rising popularity of poker over the past several years prompted the team to bring back this space.

The restaurants located on the casino barges also had to be rebuilt. In addition to bringing back existing establishments, the redesign added three eateries to the mix (completed in December 2006) along with a new casino lounge.

The resort’s 1,740 hotel rooms were also renovated. Though a number of the rooms—especially those on the Gulf side—sustained damage, the majority was in good shape. However, a renovation of the rooms was part of future plans, so Beau Rivage took the opportunity to upgrade the entire hotel.

Large Project, Bite-Sized Tasks

The large scope of the project and the finite construction timeline required the team to approach the renovation by dividing the work into sections. “It was critical that we assembled teams and leaders to be accountable for specific areas of the facility,” says Mancini. “It was a collaborative effort between MMDG, Gensler, Tishman, Yates Construction, and hotel operations staff. Teams were developed and separately accountable for the tower, casino, low rise, and golf course. This allowed each team to make decisions directly to mitigate progress delays.

“We broke everything down to its lowest common denominator,” Mancini continues. “By doing that and communicating the mission effectively, the clean up and construction efforts could be digested more easily. It could have been much more challenging for everyone involved in the project without taking that approach, based on the number of people on the project. At the peak of the rebuilding effort, there were approximately 1,600 people involved.”

The End In Sight

With a re-opening date firmly set, (“August 29 of the next year wasn’t going to move,” quips Mancini.), it was critical to keep the entire team focused. Mancini acknowledges, “A project of this scope and magnitude required staying focused. That is how we finished the project on time.

“It was critical to have a communications strategy for handling the walk throughs and the turnovers for each area upon completion,” says Mancini. “We had a very definitive process for that. This involved many groups, from MMDG and our consultants, including the housekeeping staff who worked with us on room turnovers and the food and beverage staff who were opening the kitchens.”

Beau Rivage opened on time in August 2006. Among those in attendance were U.S. Senator Trent Lott, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, MGM leadership of Beau Rivage and its sister properties, contractors and subcontractors, and nearly 4,000 returning employees.

“It was awesome with a capital ‘A’,” recalls Mancini. “There are many stories I could tell about the trek along the way, but the one that impacted me most that day was being introduced to an employee by George [P. Corchis, Jr., president and chief operating officer of Beau Rivage]. When she learned of my role in the project, she started to cry and said, ‘I don’t know how to say thank you that we’re open and have our jobs back. We can begin to move on with our lives now.’”

As Mancini recalls the rebuild, he emphasizes the dedication and fortitude of those who worked on the site daily: “While I have the privilege to tell a part of the story, it was about the team,” he says. “This would never have happened without a great team of dedicated and passionate people. It was quite an effort and required an enormous commitment from many people.” Because of those efforts, Beau Rivage is one more part of the recovery in Biloxi—a process that continues today.

This article was based on an interview with Mancini and related literature.

Project Information:

Project: Beau Rivage Casino & Resort.
Type of Facility: Existing.
Function of Facility: Casino/Hotel/Spa/Resort.
Location: Biloxi, MS.
Square Footage: 2.6 million.
Project Manager: Brian Packer.
Facility Manager: Al Greene
Construction Timetable: September 2005 to August 2006.
Architect: Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide.
General Contractor/Construction Manager: W.G. Yates & Sons Construction; Tishman Construction.
Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Flack & Kurtz, Inc.; Finnegan Erickson Associates.
Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers.
Interior Designer: MMDG; RDH & Associates; Cleo Design; Westar Architects; Duncan & Miller Design; Jeffrey Beers International.
Lighting Designer: Kaplan Gehring McCarroll (KGM) Architectural Lighting.Landscape Architect: Claire Bennett Associates.

Product Information:

Furniture: Fleetwood Fine Furniture.
Seating: Gasser Chair; Lilly Jack.
Flooring: Couristan; Yost-Flagship (wood); Tarkett (vinyl).
Carpet: Ulster Carpets; Couristan (casino and atrium).
Ceilings: Armstrong.
Wallcoverings/Textiles: Designtex; Maharam; Knoll.
Surfacing: Volakis; Daltile.
Acoustics/Sound Masking: Vdosc; American; Sony; Shure; QSC; EAW.
Restroom Fixtures: Kohler; Toto.
Office Equipment: Xerox (copiers); Canon (fax machines); Nortel (printers); Hewlett Packard.
Building Management System: Siemens.
Security System: Siemens.
CCTV: Cable One.
Smart Cards: Saflock.
ID Badging: ID Group.
Fire Alarms: Siemens.
Safety Equipment: Siemens; Kidde (fire extinguishers).
Lighting Control Products (including sensors): Lutron.
Lighting Fixtures: Barovier & Toso; Fine Art Lamps.
Ballasts: FlyGT; EG Controls, Inc.
HVAC Equipment: Gaudin; Siemens.
Power Supply Equipment: Siemens; Trane; Price; Greenheck; Caterpillar.
Back Up Power: Eaton.
Exit Signs: Lithonia.
Signage: YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company).
Window Treatments: Coast Drapery Services.
Elevators: Thyssen Krupp.
Escalators: Schindler.