Norfolk Casino Plan Reworked, Developer Scrambles to Meet 2025 Deadline

Posted on: December 20, 2023, 09:39h. 

Last updated on: December 21, 2023, 11:21h.

The Norfolk casino that local voters signed off on during the November 2020 election has been rendered yet again in hopes of satisfying city officials.

Norfolk casino Pamunkey Virginia
The latest rendering of HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk. The project will still provide guests with unobstructed views of the Elizabeth River and adjacent Harbor Park Minor League Baseball stadium. (Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, in partnership with billionaire Jon Yarbrough — who made his fortune through Video Gaming Technologies, a gaming manufacturer that he sold in 2014 for $1.3 billion — this week presented new plans for the HeadWaters Resort & Casino.

The latest vision remains a $500 million investment, but the new rendering moves the resort inland from the Elizabeth River and no longer includes a marina. The adjustment is because the city is moving forward with building a 17-foot-high seawall to control flooding.

The latest concept has a footprint of about 963,000 square feet. But it would encompass only 6.5 acres of the 13.5 acres the tribe tentatively agreed to purchase from the city for $10 million.

Norfolk casino Pamunkey Virginia
(Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

The tribe announced on Tuesday that, pending city approval, it would break ground early next year and build the resort from the north to the south. The first segment to open would be a 45,000-square-foot casino, with between 800 and 1,000 slot machines and about 25 table games.

Construction would then focus on a 300-room hotel and rooftop pool, plus about 18,000 square feet of event space. The casino would later be expanded by 20,000 square feet.

Other attractions and amenities would include a 180-seat sportsbook and restaurant, a bar, a quick-service eatery, a 1,200-space parking garage, and a 3,000-square-foot spa.

November 2025 Deadline

The clock is quickly ticking on the November 2025 deadline the city imposed on the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to commence casino operations, as dictated through its host agreement. While casinos or temporary casinos have already opened in the three other Virginia cities where voters authorized commercial gambling — Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville — repeated designs and legal concerns have stalled Norfolk’s gaming project.

In July, the Pamunkeys and Yarbrough pitched a $500 million project to be built over two phases of construction. That idea was pushed back on by city officials, who said their host agreement requires the developer to build and open the entire resort through a single construction phase.

I’ve been part of the conversation that they will build the entire project and what has been submitted in the past was unacceptable,” Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander told The Virginian-Pilot this week.

The tribe previously planned to open a temporary casino inside Harbor Park while building the permanent resort. That idea was scrapped on legal concerns that Virginia’s gaming law requires that temporary casinos only operate at the same physical mailing address as where the permanent casino will operate.

Tribe Remains Committed

HeadWaters spokesperson Jay Smith says the tribe remains committed to the casino and Norfolk. Smith said construction on the latest construction timeline would need to start by spring 2024 to make the November 1, 2025, opening deadline.

Before ground can be broken, the tribe’s casino plan must acquire approval from the Norfolk Architecture Review Board, and then be signed off by the city’s planning commission and city council. Once the casino is built, the Virginia Lottery Board would test its operational compliances before giving the casino the green light to welcome the public.

The city’s Architecture Review Board will review the latest HeadWaters plan during its January 8 meeting.