Norfolk Casino Project Faces Another Setback, Design Review Delayed

Posted on: January 9, 2024, 10:41h. 

Last updated on: January 23, 2024, 01:26h.

The developers behind the Norfolk casino project called HeadWaters Resort & Casino have requested additional time from city officials. The request comes before presenting what is hoped to be the final construction blueprint for the more than $500 million development.

Norfolk casino HeadWaters Pamunkey Indian Tribe
The latest rendering of HeadWaters Resort & Casino in Norfolk. The $500 million project from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe has yet to move dirt more than three years after city voters signed off on the commercial development. (Image: HeadWaters Resort & Casino)

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe is the preferred gaming developer of the City of Norfolk. Local voters approved a ballot referendum during the 2020 election authorizing the federally recognized Tribe to construct a commercial casino resort. It will be located on the banks of the Elizabeth River adjacent to the Harbor Park Minor League Baseball stadium.

Over three years later, ground has yet to be broken on the casino. The Tribe was to present its latest construction scheme to the Norfolk Architectural Review Board on Monday. But the city agency said the casino developers petitioned for an extension.

The Architectural Review Board says it will now consider the HeadWaters plan during its January 22 meeting.

Latest Setback

Gaining approval from the Architectural Review Board is the first step in solidifying the Tribe’s casino development plans.

The board is tasked with reviewing all new construction projects involving land purchased from the city or that directly encroaches on city property. The Tribe is planning to build HeadWaters on roughly 13.5 acres of waterfront property that’s currently owned by the city.

Norfolk has tentatively agreed to sell the acreage for $10 million. The Tribe is working with billionaire Jon Yarbrough, a gaming industry veteran, in financing the $500 million casino.

The project, however, has suffered numerous setbacks since voters approved of the development. A temporary casino located inside Harbor Park first caused delays after legal concerns were raised regarding whether gambling was allowed on the adjacent property because it has a different mailing address than where the permanent casino would be built.

The Tribe then pitched a phased development approach that would result in a casino first, and a resort and hotel later. City officials rejected that idea because they wanted the project built entirely at once.

HeadWaters then experienced design delays after the state allocated considerable funds for Norfolk to build a 17-foot-high seawall along the Elizabeth River to better protect the city from coastal weather events. The seawall project forced HeadWaters to scrap its plans for a marina, which had been a focal point of earlier pitches.

2025 Deadline

Norfolk’s casino development agreement with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe requires HeadWaters to open for business by the end of November 2025. The city and tribe both have financial motivators to satisfy the deadline.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) revealed through his budget that Norfolk would receive an additional $21 million in state funding for the seawall project. But the money won’t be sent until HeadWaters turns on its slot machines. The $21 million is in addition to the $74 million the state previously committed to the infrastructure undertaking, which is officially called the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander told The Virginian-Pilot this week that he was unaware as to why the Tribe requested more time to present its plan to the Architectural Review Board.