BRISTOL, Va. — A casino holds the key to a proposed $500 million development on the Virginia portion of The Pinnacle, developer Steve Johnson said.
Johnson continues to urge the Virginia General Assembly to consider a proposed $250 million casino and hotel that would be operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as part of his plans to develop 350 acres in Washington County, Virginia.
Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to allow casinos in five cities and the city of Bristol already has a proposed casino project for the former Bristol Mall. It is the lone Southwest Virginia location eligible for a casino license, so legislation would have to be changed for Johnson’s project to even be considered.
Since the two sites are less than three miles apart, there has been some public speculation about why Johnson doesn’t build the water park and hotel, music amphitheater and other proposed amenities and not try to compete with the proposed Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino.
“I don’t think it works that way. That’s like saying I could have put Bass Pro at the Bristol Mall and the remainder of The Pinnacle remains where it is,” Johnson told the Bristol Herald Courier this week, referring to the commercial development on the Tennessee portion of the property off Interstate 81’s Exit 74. “That just doesn’t work.”
Johnson said creating synergy is the key to large-scale commercial development.
“It’s critical mass and synergy and traffic patterns and pent-up demand,” he said. “The idea that you have thousands and thousands of people at this hotel casino, and they can simply walk to the music venue or walk to the golf venue or walk between the casino and the hotel water park — you can’t do that when you have to cross Interstate 81. That’s what we’re talking about — across the street — and the street is I-81.”
A casino is essential to attracting crowds because it holds the “honey that attracts the bees,” Johnson said.
The water park and hotel are estimated to cost $150 million, the golf venue and amphitheater $20 million apiece, a mountain roller coaster $10 million and additional retail and dining is projected to be a $50 million investment.
The Pinnacle currently has about 1 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment options, but he said additional dining would be needed to meet the demands of the large numbers forecast to visit the proposed new attractions.
Collectively, Johnson projects the casino would generate $38 million annually in gaming tax revenue for the state and $9.4 million for Washington County, but he proposes that the county strike an unspecified revenue-sharing agreement with Bristol, Virginia.
A state study forecasts that the Bristol casino would generate up to $130 million in annual net gaming revenue, $35 million in state gaming tax revenue and $3.7 million in local tax revenue. However, it was completed before Hard Rock International announced it planned to manage the hotel and casino.