Norfolk selects Pamunkey tribe as preferred casino developer, Waterside owners say city continues to be in violation of contract

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Amidst an ongoing conflict on who has the right to develop a casino in Norfolk, City Council chose to reaffirm their partnership with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

Norfolk City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday evening to select the tribe as the preferred casino gaming operator for a proposed waterfront resort and casino, as required by state legislation.

The Virginia State Lottery Board will then complete a 45-day review of the Pamunkey’s Indian tribes plan and must sign off on it before a citywide vote can be scheduled for Nov. 3.

Councilman Paul Riddick was the lone “no” vote, telling his fellow council members he was growing concerned with the COVID-19’s effect on the gaming industry.

The city has been working with the tribe for several years to bring a resort casino to land next to Harbor Park. An option to purchase agreement and development agreement were signed in January.

However the proposal now looks different than the way it started out. On Tuesday, council also repealed a vote it took last September that would allow the tribe to establish a tribal nation, separate from city rule, on the land.

The Pamunkey tribe says the $500-million resort will feature a 300-room full-service hotel, steak and seafood restaurant, sports bar and grill, cafe, spa and 2,500-seat entertainment venue.

The $500 million investment number is new — the project was first pitched to be in the $700 million range, but Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said in January the proposed resort and casino would be closer to $200 million.

The announcement from the tribe comes about two and a half months after Waterside operators threatened to sue the city, staking its claim to developing a casino in the area.

A lawyer representing Cordish Companies, the operator of Waterside, said the city agreed in 2013 that it would exclusively help Cordish bring casino gaming to the city.

When Cordish signed an agreement with Norfolk to redevelop the Waterside District, it included language that would allow the company to expand the complex into a casino if gambling ever became legal in the state.

10 On Your Side reached out to Cordish Companies for a response to the latest news.

“Unfortunately the City has been and continues to be in clear and direct violation of its contractual obligations to Waterside and there has no progress in resolving the matter,” said Zed Smiths, spokesperson and partner.

The city is expected to bring in $26 to $31 million in gaming- and sales-related taxes from the casino project, as well as an estimated 6.2 million casino visitors each year.

Under the agreement, the tribe will need to pay for infrastructure, flood mitigation and utility improvements.

The tribe estimates the project will create 2,000-plus construction jobs and about 2,500 full-time jobs when the casino and resort are operational. Employee earnings could total $100 million each year.

“The project will have a total economic impact of $850 million for the Commonwealth, including $754 million for the City of Norfolk,” the tribe wrote in a news release.

“As we look ahead to what will be a long economic recovery from the pandemic, this project will be a huge shot in the arm for the local economy,” said Jay Smith, spokesman for the Pamunkey Resort and Casino. “The jobs, investment and general infusion of money into the local economy will have a ripple effect across the City and the region. At a time now when we can likely expect to see a drop in local revenue for the City, this new stream of money – to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually – will be an important part of the City’s ongoing ability to provide city services to its residents.”


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