Cordish Continues Lawsuit Challenging Norfolk Casino Partnership

Posted on: February 13, 2024, 11:55h. 

Last updated on: February 13, 2024, 12:35h.

The Cordish Companies is continuing its legal contention that the City of Norfolk breached its Waterside redevelopment contract it reached in 2013.

Cordish Norfolk casino Waterside
The Waterside District in Norfolk, Va. The Cordish Companies, which operates the destination, is suing Norfolk over its casino development plans with a Native American tribe and a billionaire. (Image: Waterside District)

Cordish, a real estate developer that runs Live!-branded mixed-use entertainment, hospitality, and casino destinations across the U.S., agreed to redevelop Norfolk’s Waterside District in 2013. Cordish poured $40 million into the redevelopment and turned around the destination’s finances since the Waterside District reopened in 2017.

As part of the redevelopment agreement, Cordish’s lease says the City of Norfolk would not “subsidize or provide a performance-based grant for a restaurant and entertainment development of over 75,000 square feet similar to the project” for a minimum of 10 years.

Cordish says Norfolk partnering with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire Jon Yarbrough for a casino resort adjacent to the city’s Harbor Park Minor League Baseball stadium violates those terms. The project, called HeadWaters Resort & Casino, is to be built less than a mile east of the Waterside District along the Elizabeth River.

Case Continued

Cordish operates three casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The company is aggressively seeking to expand its gaming footprint and has expressed interest in developing casino resorts in North Carolina, Texas, and elsewhere in Virginia.

Cordish attorneys contend they should have been issued the legal rights to Norfolk’s casino opportunity authorized through state legislation passed in 2020. Norfolk voters approved the casino development through a local referendum that same year.

Cordish sued Norfolk in July 2021, seeking $100 million in damages. The company says it would have never agreed to redevelop the Waterside District if it had known that an integrated resort casino would be approved within walking distance. Cordish owns the Waterside District through a subsidy called Norfolk District Associates (ND).

ND and its redevelopment contract were crystal clear: without the City’s commitment to making Cordish its exclusive developer for casino gaming, ND would not undertake the herculean task and significant economic risks of redeveloping The Waterside,” the complaint declared.

Filed in Richmond City General District Court, a judge there dismissed the case in 2022. Cordish appealed the ruling and Virginia’s Court of Appeals agreed to hear the arguments.

The case has since slowed after a judge initially signed to the three-judge panel recused herself because of a conflict. Three state appellate judges reheard the case in December. It’s unclear when a ruling might come.

HeadWaters Delays

Ground still hasn’t been broken on the $500 million HeadWaters project more than four years after Norfolk voters approved the development.

Last month, the developers asked for additional time before presenting the final blueprint to the Norfolk Architectural Review Board. The board must approve all development projects involving land purchased from the city.

Norfolk has agreed to sell 13.5 acres of city-owned land that currently serves as a paved parking lot for the baseball stadium. The tentative purchase price is $10 million.

The HeadWaters developers say the numerous delays have been caused by an array of issues. The most recent setback came from the city receiving federal and state funds to build a 17-foot-high seawall along the Elizabeth River that required the casino plan to move slightly inland.