NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Organizers are gambling on a list minute push to slow down the casino project in downtown Norfolk.
A group of Norfolk residents and city councilwoman Andria McClellan have until the end of Thursday to get 4,000 signatures.
On September 24, City Council voted to tentatively sell land near Harbor Park to the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a multi- million dollar casino. The vote was 7-1.
Some residents say they want council to slow down and give more information on the project before moving forward.
10 On Your Side reported thousands of people signed the petition to overturn council’s decision and create a public referendum. “This is a petition effort started by a group of citizens approximately a month ago after Norfolk City Council voted to enter into an inter-governmental agreement and a land sale with the Pamunkey tribe for a casino in downtown Norfolk,” said McClellan.
McClellan says residents who sign the petition are asking council to rescind the vote with the goal of enforcing a city-wide referendum so that all Norfolk residents can have a say.
“Essentially what we are talking about isn’t just a casino, it’s talking about creating sovereign land on the banks of the Elizabeth River and I think that requires more than two weeks of public discussion, which is what happened,” said McClellan. “This is the most important vote that I will have ever taken on council because of the nature of the deal, which is to create a nation in the city of Norfolk which the city will never have control over ever, ever again.”
McClellan says she’s not for or against the casino, but she’s against the process.
“We’ve done no economic impact study on how a casino might potentially negatively affect Granby Street that we are sitting on and the bars and restaurants and hotels that are here, that we currently get taxes from, we wouldn’t be able to get those taxes from a tribal casino,” said McClellan. “Why rush this? Why not wait? why not wait until after the General Assembly votes on this legislation in 2020 and then we could potentially have a commercial casino where we could have more control over that.”
The city unveiled the terms of the deal which showed the casino could potentially have up to 4,500 slot machines, 500 four-diamond hotels rooms, on-site restaurants, a spa, and an entertainment venue. Those in support say the casino would put Norfolk on the map for tourism, careers, jobs and revenue.
One of the creators of the ‘Say No to the Norfolk Casino‘ petition, Lisa Suhay, spoke during the council meeting on Tuesday night. Suhay asked council again to consider allowing residents to vote on the decision or create a citizen oversight committee.
“If you trust this deal, that’s great and I think the people would like to know why you trust it. But if the feeling is, you trust the deal more than you trust the people to make the decision, we probably have a bigger issue to talk about,” she explained. “Give the people the voice that they are asking to have with this council. They want to place their trust in you, they want to understand the issue but they really weren’t educated on this. That is showing in the number of questions we are getting.”
Mayor Kenny Alexander explained the process, which is unusual during a public comment.
He says the vote in September was just the first step in the process and nothing is set in stone.
“We are a long way away, long way in the process, of opening a casino,” said Mayor Alexander.
If enough people sign the petition, the future of the casino could be left in the public’s hands at the ballot box.