Here in Margaritaville

If you like piña coladas, I hope you like margaritas too. Although, I suppose you could just get either—or both—at MVB Holding LLC’s new Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant. Encompassing 68,000 square feet, the entire property resembles the tropical environment often mentioned in the songs of legendary singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett. The $62 million resort, designed by Cuningham Group Architecture Inc., is the first stand-alone Margaritaville casino. MVB chose to honor Buffett by having Margaritaville built in Biloxi, Miss., the city in which he played his first professional gig.

Planning
In 2007, Buffett, a Mississippi native, joined up with Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars) to build a $700 million casino on the beach. That resort was scheduled to open in 2010, but construction was stopped in 2008. Casino veteran Tom Brosig and other investors looking to help revive the Mississippi Gulf Coast economy—still hurting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—started working with Margaritaville to add a unique, casual, boutique resort on the Back Bay. As Margaritaville is one of the most popular and recognizable brands in the southern U.S., it has well-thought-out brand standards and “keepers of the brand” who ensure that everything looks as it should. In designing the various features of Margaritaville, it was essential that builders, designers and consultants integrate the existing brand standards within the property.

The Volcano Bar.
The Volcano Bar.
The Cuningham Group philosophy, Every Building Tells A Story®, worked quite well when designing the resort. Using this as a platform, it was decided that every feature of Margaritaville would reflect the story of the owner’s vision and of its unique site. Thomas L. Hoskens, principal at Cuningham Group, asserts that the firm’s designers worked closely with the Margaritaville group and The McBride Co.—the people who created the distinct Margaritaville restaurant and casino look—to ensure that the property provides an accurate glimpse into the Margaritaville “lifestyle,” while being distinctly individual. For example, it was essential that the property include the brand’s trademark Volcano Bar, but it was equally important that the volcano be different from those in other Volcano Bars.

No project is without a bump in the road. Due to Margaritaville’s beautiful location, immediately adjacent to the waterfront, the building needed to be elevated above storm surge levels and comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations. Although this affected the entire construction plan, Cuningham Group made it work to their advantage. Margaritaville guests enter at grade and ascend a set of escalators through an enclosed atrium. As they slowly make their way up, they journey through a tropical environment, full of vibrant colors, Jimmy Buffett artifacts and palm trees. This serves to build excitement about the Margaritaville experience. Furthermore, the elevation required by FEMA actually enhances the dramatic views of Biloxi’s Back Bay from the resort’s elevated dining and porch areas.

InfluencesGrumman airplane hanging from the rafters, and the view from the windows.
Grumman airplane hanging from the rafters, and the view from the windows.

The Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville brand is all about a laid-back way to live, party and experience life, and its group works very hard to keep this consistent. Situated on the Back Bay of Biloxi, which opens into the Gulf of Mexico, it is easy for Margaritaville to convey the relaxed, island vibe associated with its brand and this theme is reflected in every aspect of the resort. The casino opens to Biloxi’s breathtaking bay by way of a marina and bar. A beach party atmosphere was created on the water with outdoor seating and dining options and an 18-slip marina that extends the entertainment outdoors and welcomes area boaters.

The building itself is all about its location and takes advantage of its spectacular surroundings. It has what may be the largest wall of glass facing the Back Bay in the casino market, giving Margaritaville one of the best and most striking views of the bay in town. Eating on the deck, or inside with large 30-foot-high windows, guests are treated to views overlooking the Biloxi Bay Bridge. The designers also embraced the regional shrimping and boating experience unlike any other on the coast, incorporating these features into its overall look. Drawing on inspiration from its neighbors—shrimp boats and a boat storage area—the Margaritaville Restaurant is outfitted with fishing and shrimp boats that function as booths.

Unique Elements
It would be difficult to pick just one favorite element here in Margaritaville—there are so many interesting features! Many people love the Volcano, a trademark in Margaritaville restaurants worldwide. Based on Buffett’s song, “Volcano,” it erupts each hour, filling a giant blender below with green margaritas. About four times a day, a “Biloxi Cutie” emerges from a smoking volcano and slides down into the pitcher of green margaritas.

Margaritaville marina at night.
Margaritaville marina at night.
Casino-goers will love the expansive gaming area, and not just because of its 820 slots and 18 table games. The space is quite different from traditional gambling areas that are normally enclosed, as it opens to the marina and Biloxi’s bay. The view through the 30-foot-high windows is visible in the gaming space, providing players with a stunning vista.

Younger visitors (and the young at heart) will enjoy the beach party atmosphere of the outside patio. It includes two levels of dining decks off the restaurant that feature entertainment, food and drinks, including four Coast Transit Authority buses that were turned into food trucks. Best of all, there are custom elements throughout the resort that help give it its unique feel, such as the Grumman airplane hanging from the rafters—a replica of the singer’s personal plane—Hemisphere Dancer, along with palm trees, torches with a simulated flame effect and TVs mounted in surfboards.

In late May, Margaritaville officially opened, and with quite an impressive event. Jimmy Buffett himself played to a delighted VIP crowd for more than an hour before the other festivities began. Margaritaville’s owner is certain that, given the popularity of the Margaritaville brand in this part of the country, the casino will draw both casual and serious “Parrot Heads”—those members of the cult following that flocks to Jimmy Buffett and his music. He also believes that the resort will help bring other investment to its area of the city and draw Buffett fans that have never been to Biloxi before.

Conceived with the goal of recreating the excitement of a Jimmy Buffett concert, while exuding the carefree, laid-back, island lifestyle many people dream of, the beautiful, beachside Margaritaville certainly lives up to all expectations. Visitors can just kick back and get to “Nibblin’ on sponge cake” and “Watchin’ the sun bake,” here in Margaritaville.

KEY PLAYERS
Owner/Operator: MVB Holding LLC
Architect: Cuningham Group Architecture Inc.
Interior Designer:The McBride Co.
Contractor: Roy Anderson Corp.
Structural Engineer Reigstad & Associates Inc.
M/E/P Engineer: exp
Civil Engineer: Machado Patano PLLC
Buffet Kitchen Consultant: Robert Rippe & Associates Inc.
A/V Consultant: TechnoMedia Solutions LLC