Norfolk Casino Project Encounters Further Setback as Design Plans are Delayed

Date: January 9, 2024, 10:41h. 

Last updated on: January 9, 2024, 10:41h.

The developers of the Norfolk casino project, HeadWaters Resort & Casino, have asked for more time before presenting the final construction plan for the over $500 million development.

Norfolk casino HeadWaters Pamunkey Indian Tribe
The latest rendering of HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk. The $500 million project from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has yet to move dirt more than three years after city voters signed off on the commercial development. (Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is the preferred gaming developer of the City of Norfolk. Local voters during the 2020 election approved a ballot referendum authorizing the federally recognized tribe to construct a commercial casino resort on the banks of the Elizabeth River adjacent to the Harbor Park Minor League Baseball stadium.

More than three years after approval, the tribe has yet to break ground on the casino. The tribe was due to present its latest construction scheme to the Norfolk Architectural Review Board on Monday, but the city agency said the developers asked for an extension.

The Architectural Review Board says it will consider the HeadWaters plan during its Jan. 22 meeting.

Current Obstacles

Securing approval from the Architectural Review Board is the initial step in solidifying the tribe’s casino development plans.

The board reviews all new construction projects involving land purchased from the city or that directly encroaches on city property. The tribe plans to build HeadWaters on roughly 13.5 acres of waterfront property owned by the city.

Norfolk has tentatively agreed to sell the acreage for $10 million. The tribe is working with gaming industry veteran, billionaire Jon Yarbrough, to finance the $500 million casino.

The project has faced setbacks since voters approved the development. A temporary casino located inside Harbor Park first caused delays after legal concerns were raised regarding whether gambling was allowed on the adjacent property because it has a different mailing address than where the permanent casino would be built.

The tribe then suggested a phased development approach that would result in a casino first and a resort and hotel later. City officials disagreed because they wanted the project built entirely at once.

HeadWaters then experienced design delays after the state allocated considerable funds for Norfolk to build a 17-foot-high seawall along the Elizabeth River to better protect the city from coastal weather events. The seawall project forced HeadWaters to scrap its plans for a marina, which had been a focal point of earlier pitches.

2025 Deadline

Norfolk’s casino development agreement with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe requires HeadWaters to open for business by the end of November 2025. The city and tribe both have financial motivators to satisfy the deadline.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) through his budget revealed that Norfolk would receive an additional $21 million in state funding for the seawall project, but the money won’t be sent until HeadWaters turns on its slot machines. The $21 million is in addition to the $74 million the state previously committed to the infrastructure undertaking, officially called the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander told The Virginian-Pilot this week that he was unaware as to why the tribe requested more time to present its plan to the Architectural Review Board.

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