Application for Norfolk Casino Project Rescinded, Further Delaying Progress

Posted on: July 25, 2023, 09:36h. 

Last updated on: July 25, 2023, 09:36h.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, with whom Norfolk city partnered with for its casino development, is currently facing obstacles in bringing the Norfolk casino project, approved by city voters in a November 2020 local ballot referendum, to fruition.

HeadWaters casino Norfolk Virginia gambling
An artist’s rendering of the first development phase of HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk on the Elizabeth River. The development team behind HeadWaters pulled its application this week. (Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

In 2018, Virginia legislators passed a law permitting only five cities, including Norfolk, to establish a single commercial casino resort with the support of local voters. Norfolk city officials joined forces with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and gaming industry billionaire Jon Yarbrough for a $500 million project named HeadWaters Resort & Casino. The proposal garnered 65% support from Norfolk voters.

Since then, the project has faced numerous delays and undergone several design changes. Initially, the plan was to open a temporary casino at the Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium, adjacent to the main casino site. However, legal concerns arose regarding the operation of a temporary gaming facility at that location, leading the Pamunkeys and Yarbrough to reconsider their options.

In September, the developers announced a new plan to construct a temporary casino on the actual construction site near Park Avenue and Interstate 264. However, earlier this month, the project was once again revised, eliminating the idea of a temporary casino and instead moving forward with the project in two separate phases.

The initial phase would include a 90,000-square-foot building housing a casino, sports bar, restaurant, and a 1,200-space parking garage. The second phase would involve constructing a 300-room hotel along with typical resort amenities.

Project Withdrawn

The Pamunkeys and Yarbrough are currently seeking approval from the Norfolk Architectural Review Board as the first step in obtaining permission for the casino project, which is located in one of the city’s historic districts. The Architectural Review Board’s recommendations are taken into account by the Norfolk Planning Commission when considering the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) for the project.

The HeadWaters plan was expected to be further discussed at the recent meeting of the Architectural Review Board. However, the application was suddenly removed from the meeting’s agenda after the developers stated that city officials had requested a one-on-one meeting, which took place on July 25.

Robert Gray, Chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, stated, “We are solely focused on getting this project off the ground and look forward to making that happen as soon as possible. We remain committed to working closely with the City and our neighbors to make this the greatest resort and casino in Virginia.”

According to the tribe, the application was withdrawn “after the receipt by the Tribe of a letter from the City dated July 14 which contradicted their prior direction given to the Tribe and its development team in a March 1, 2023, letter from the City. After receiving the July 14 letter, the Tribe responded with a letter noting the conflicts in the City’s approach and requested a meeting to get clarity from the City on its proposed path to acquire the land and begin construction.”

The approximately 13.5-acre plot of land next to Harbor Park is still owned by the city. In 2019, the tribe reached a deal with the city to purchase the land for $10 million, provided it is zoned for the casino project.

Status Unclear

It is currently unknown who from the city government will be meeting with the casino team. According to the Virginia-Pilot, attempts to obtain comment from Mayor Kenny Alexander regarding the issue were unsuccessful.

Norfolk is one of four cities that have authorized a casino.

Rivers Casino Portsmouth, the first permanent casino to open, began operations in January. Permanent casino resorts are also under construction in Danville and Bristol. In the meantime, Caesars Virginia in Danville and Hard Rock Bristol have opened temporary casinos on the construction sites.

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