NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The developers hoping to build a casino on Norfolk’s waterfront are also hoping to help bring a grocery store to a “food desert” nearby.
Chief Robert Gray of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe made the announcement Monday at a kickoff event for the All In for Norfolk Casino Committee, a group formed with the goal of persuading the majority of city voters to vote “Yes” in November on the tribe’s plans to build a $500-million resort next to Harbor Park.
When the General Assembly legalized casino gaming in the spring for five Virginia cities, they did so contingent upon a citywide referendum.
While Gray told those in attendance that their campaign the next two months will look a lot different than he envisioned — thanks to COVID-19 — he said his tribe is still committed to showing the community they will be good neighbors.
“Access to food is an issue that is not foreign to my tribe,” Gray said. “And that’s why we’ve decided to make access to food a cornerstone of our community involvement.”
The tribe, which has its reservation in King William County, will donate $150,000 to the newly-formed Norfolk Nutritional Equity Fund, in order to help finance a new grocery store in the St. Paul’s neighborhood. Save-A-Lot closed in June, creating a food desert in one of the more impoverished areas of the city.
“Once they find a willing grocer, we are ready,” Gray said. “We anticipate this is just the beginning of our working with the city to strengthen the community.”
In a press release, the tribe also explained they have been working with eight area churches and nonprofit organizations over the past two months to provide funding for food pantries and hot meals for those in need.
A new video campaign is being launched to highlight those efforts and more of the benefits the community could see as a part of the casino.
The Pamunkey Tribe has already contributed $210,500 to two separate committees supporting the campaign, “Yes Norfolk Referendum Committee” and “Yes Norfolk PAC.”
Golden Eagle Consulting II LLC, the tribe’s development partner backed by billionaire Jon Yarbrough, has also started a PAC, but there are no donations as of the last report from the Virginia Department of Elections.
“We’ll be out there making sure the people of Norfolk know about this great project, the benefits it will bring to the city, and why they should be all in for the Norfolk Resort and Casino,” Gray said.
The Pamunkey Tribe says the resort will feature 3,000 slots, 150 table games, a 300-room full-service hotel, steak and seafood restaurant, sports bar and grill, cafe, spa and 2,500-seat entertainment venue.
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 — and create 2,000-plus construction jobs and about 2,500 full-time jobs.
Money from the land sale will go toward improving two Norfolk public schools, while state tax revenue will be funneled for new school construction.
A campaign is also underway across the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth to get voters to approve the plans for a resort casino.