PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Plans to have a casino built on the Elizabeth River have been scrapped in favor of a larger, inland location.

In Monday’s City Council work session, the city’s economic development director recommended that a casino facility be the anchor of a proposed entertainment district at the convergence of I-264 and Victory Blvd, next to Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus.

“This is a superior site with direct access off the interstate and 50 acres,” said Robert D. Moore, Portsmouth’s Economic Development Director, in a presentation to council members.

The site was at one time the proposed home of “Victory Village” mixed use development. The Economic Development Authority bought back the property in a settlement with the developers last year for $5.1 million.

Tuesday, Council will vote on whether or not to support the EDA’s request to market the land for an entertainment district to include casino gaming.

“The city wants more than just a casino,” Moore said.

Under the plan put forward the entertainment district could include the following

  • 400,000 square foot gaming and entertainment facility with a 3,000 seat performance venue, restaurants and meeting space
  • 3,000 space parking garage
  • 4-star hotel
  • 30 restaurant & retail outlets
  • Movie theater

An estimated 4,000 jobs could be created according to Moore. He estimates in total the project as city staff laid it out would require a $550 million investment.

Ports Entertainment Rendering
A conceptual rendering of a potential entertainment district with casino in Portsmouth

“That’s a very good use for that site,” said Mayor John Rowe following the meeting. “It’s a better location for a casino. It makes it part of a larger development. I think it’s the kind of thing that gives you goosebumps when you think about the location.”

A “yes” vote by the majority of council would can plans for a casino at the former Holiday Inn site on the Elizabeth River waterfront.

“A yes vote would open up new possibilities for that site,” Moore said.

The W.M. Jordan Company was in negotiations with the EDA to build that project but at this point, they are no longer involved according to Moore. As of Monday night, requests for comment from Chairman John Lawson have not been returned.

Negotiations are underway with an unnamed developer. Rowe said taxpayers will likely help split costs.

“There will be plenty of opportunity for public input,” Rowe said.

In a timeline laid out by Moore, a Memorandum of Understanding with a developer could be reached in the next two months with a development agreement reached by spring next year.

Traditional casinos are still illegal in Virginia, but legislation that would allow gaming in five cities, including Portsmouth and Norfolk, is currently being studied in Richmond.

If lawmakers approve the bill next legislative session, a majority of voters in each individual city would still have to approve allowing gaming in their community before any license could be issued.

“The project will move forward with or without the casino,” Rowe said.

Meister Economic Consulting will give a presentation in City Council Chambers about the project during a special meeting at 10 a.m. on July 30.