The Pamunkey Indian Tribe signed a $10 million agreement Monday with the city of Norfolk to purchase 13.4 acres of undeveloped city property adjacent to Harbor Park for a resort casino development.
The city and tribe also signed a developmental agreement to regulate their partnership as the tribe develops the casino, according to a written statement.
“The signing of these agreements makes it official — we are partners with Norfolk to bring a world-class resort and casino to the region,” Pamunkey Indian Chief Robert Gray said. “I want to thank the mayor, those members of council who have supported our project, the city administration, and the thousands of people in Norfolk who have welcomed this project with excitement. We can’t wait to get started.”
The proposed Pamunkey Resort & Casino is to include a four-diamond, full-service convention hotel, several onsite restaurants, a luxury spa, an entertainment venue and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The project is expected to create thousands of construction and ongoing full-time jobs, attract millions of visitors each year and have a significant positive economic impact annually for the city, according to the statement.
This is the third agreement for a proposed casino operation in Virginia, where casino gaming still isn’t legal.
In Bristol, local business leaders Jim McGlothlin and Clyde Stacy have committed to developing a resort casino at the former Bristol Mall and recently announced Hard Rock International would serve as the operator. The city of Portsmouth has an agreement with Rush Street Gaming LLC of Chicago to operate a casino resort on a 50-acre site near the Tidewater Community College.
Monday’s announcement comes as the General Assembly prepares to revisit legislation that would allow casino gaming in certain Virginia cities where local voters approve.
Another aspect of the debate is expected to be the potential for having competitive bidding for the available casino gaming licenses. McGlothlin and Bristol officials are already on record as opposing competitive bidding, since they have a facility, operator and funding in place.
Asked about the possibility of competitive bidding, Pamunkey Tribe spokesman Jay Smith said they support the existing legislation.
“We support legislation similar to what passed last year, where Richmond and Norfolk were designated for commercial gaming for the Pamunkey Tribe,” Smith wrote in an email. “I can’t speak to what should happen in other localities but we support language similar to last year for Richmond and Norfolk.”
Monday’s signing follows more than a year of negotiation between the tribe and the city. City Council first began discussing the resort and casino project in August of 2018, and it was announced in December of 2018. After considering the project for more than a year, on Sept. 24, 2019, the Norfolk City Council voted 7-1 to grant the city manager authority to execute the option-to-purchase agreement and developmental agreement with the tribe.
The option-to-purchase is for $10 million, or $750,000 per acre. It has a three-year term with an option to extend for up to two more years, a $100,000 payment to the city per year of the option term. The tribe must receive the right to conduct commercial gaming before the land may be purchased, and it includes minimum standards with regard to the size, design and construction of the resort and casino.
In addition, the tribe must fund all costs associated with transportation infrastructure, flood mitigation, offsite utility improvements and any other infrastructure improvements directly necessary for the project and a commitment to pay for construction of the Elizabeth River Trail through or around the project.