Norfolk civic leagues wonder if proposed casino vote is being rushed


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — There are two questions on a survey currently being circulated by several local civic leagues. The first question essentially asks if a person thinks a casino would be positive for the city. The second asks if city council should make that decision so soon.

“It is an exciting deal that has a lot of unanswered questions in my mind,” said Councilwoman Andria McClellan.

McClellan has shared the survey, launched by the Larchmont Edgewater Civic League, on her social media platforms.

Unlike the issues of recycling and e-scooters, no city issued survey about the issue has been publicized. While McClellan admits she doesn’t recall anyone on council requesting one be sent out, it still puzzles her.

“We hold public hearings on a regular basis for far smaller issues that are out to civic leagues and talking with everyone and getting more information. We need to be doing that with this project as well,” McClellan said.

The idea for the $700 million resort next to Harbor Park was first announced last December, but last Tuesday was the first time terms of the deal were made public.

McClellan wasn’t the only council member with concerns at that time.

“We understand the revenue impact, but what is the social impact to a casino that wasn’t addressed tonight? And that is what we are asking the city manager to come back, or his team to come back with answers too,” said Mayor Kenny Alexander.

Since that time Dr. Larry “Chip” Filer has taken over for Doug Smith. The city has also compiled a page on their website dedicated to the casino. However for McClellan, it still isn’t enough.

“I don’t intend to vote on Tuesday night. I really feel we need more information, an economic impact study on downtown and what it is going to do for downtown businesses,” McClellan said on Thursday afternoon.

The vote to tentatively transfer the land will follow a public hearing at Norfolk City Hall on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Current plans call for between 3,500 to 4,500 slot machines, up to 225 table games, three to five on site restaurants, a 750-seat entertainment facility, spa and waterfront promenade.

Smith estimated the city could see $5 million in revenue annually if the casino had at least 750 slot machines and 25 table games.

If Norfolk City Council approves the land deal on Sept. 24, ownership won’t change immediately and the Pamunkeys will essentially pay $100,000 a year for up to five years to have the city reserve the land for them until one of two pathways toward opening a casino become more clear.

Legislation that would allow gaming in five cities, including Portsmouth and Norfolk, is currently being studied in Richmond.

If lawmakers approve the bill in the next legislative session, and a majority of voters in Norfolk approve in 2020, the Pamunkeys could open a commercial casino by 2022, the city’s interim economic development director said.

Because of that, the tribe also wants to submit its application to start the lengthy federal process.

Under that plan, the 13.25 acres of waterfront property would be sold at market value, $750,000 an acre. The city would then get a 4-percent cut of all gambling revenues

Both solutions require the tribe to cover any infrastructure, flood mitigation and utility improvements.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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