NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Norfolk is moving forward with its planned casino development on the banks of the Elizabeth River near Harbor Park.

On Monday, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced they had signed both an option to purchase agreement and development agreement for their proposed resort casino.

This comes after months of controversy, and a deal that looks totally different than it did when the council initially voted on September 24

There is no longer the chance for a “sovereign nation” Indian casino in Norfolk, only a “commercial” one owned by a Native American tribe.

“I believe we have a better deal overall,” said Councilwoman Andria McClellan, who was the lone “no” vote when the council approved the initial deal. “I am still not sure where I stand on casino gaming but look forward to General Assembly action and what the voters may say in November.” 

McClellan helped encourage a group called “Citizens for an Informed Norfolk” that gathered enough signatures to force City Council to reconsider their original vote.

After two public hearings, no vote was ever scheduled by council.  

The city says the key terms for the purchase agreement include:

  • A term of three years, with the ability to extend the option term for up to two additional terms of one year each
  • Payment to the City of $100,000 per year of the option term (to fund Norfolk Public Schools)
  • A full-value purchase price of $750,000 per acre (totaling more than $10 million), based on an appraisal of the land by an independent third-party appraisal firm approved by both the Tribe and the City
  • A provision whereby the Tribe must have been given the right to conduct commercial gaming before the land may be purchased; and
  • Required minimum standards with regard to the size, design, and construction of the resort and casino.

Key terms of the development agreement include:

  • A requirement that the Tribe complete the project within a to-be-determined amount of time
  • A commitment to negotiate a “Construction and Use Covenant” to govern and regulate the construction and use of the property, including compliance with Virginia Statewide Building Code;
  • A requirement that the Tribe pay for all costs associated with transportation infrastructure, flood mitigation, offsite utility improvements, and any other infrastructure improvements directly necessary for the project; and
  • A commitment to pay for construction of the Elizabeth River Trail through or around the project.

“The signing of these agreements makes it official – we are partners with Norfolk to bring a world-class resort and casino to the region,” said Pamunkey Indian Chief Robert Gray in a press release Monday. “I want to thank the Mayor, those members of Council who have supported our project, the City Administration, and the thousands of people in Norfolk who have welcomed this project with excitement.  We can’t wait to get started.”

Once pitched as a much larger project in the $700 million range, the proposed resort and casino is expected to now be closer to $200 million, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said.

The casino is still pending approval by lawmakers in Richmond. Casino gaming is still illegal in Virginia, but a bill by Portsmouth Sen. Louise Lucas would allow only the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Richmond to host casino gaming. Voters in each city would also have to vote via referendum to allow for a casino in their city.