Virginia Gov. Says Norfolk Seawall Project Money Hinges On Casino

Written By Phil West on December 28, 2023
Rendering of the proposed HeadWaters Casino in Norfolk on a story about the city's plan for a seawall at the site.

A proposed seawall project in Norfolk is now being tied to a voter-approved casino opening in the city. That’s according to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s latest biennial budget released on Wednesday.

As PlayVirginia reported Thursday, the proposed HeadWaters Resort and Casino project is looking to clear the first of three hurdles on Jan. 8, when the city’s Architectural Review Board could approve revised plans for the site. Should the City Council give final approval to allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to buy the waterfront land, construction could start as early as this coming spring.

A report from WAVY-TV detailed the trade-off, noting,

“The city could get an additional $21 million for its multi-billion-dollar Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, on top of the nearly $74 million already announced on Friday.

“However, the additional funding comes with a catch. The HeadWaters Resort and Casino to be built by Harbor Park must be open before the city sees a dime.”

According to WAVY, “It’s a move the Youngkin administration says maximizes the public’s investment,” although “others might view it as an incentive to get the long-delayed project moving.”

Seawall project part of larger development plan

When it eventually opens, HeadWaters is expected to be the fourth casino in the state. Virginia online casinos are illegal, and there’s no effort to change that at this time.

MaCaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, told WAVY said the state saw an opportunity in the Norfolk casino project to enhance protections in the city.

“The budget seeks to maximize the economic development associated with the commonwealth’s continued investment of taxpayer resources in the project.”

The additional $21 million would come in the form of a treasury loan “to further contribute to the non-federal match if revenues from a casino authorized under the state’s process are put towards support of their local funding of the seawall.”

Ironically, the city’s decision to build a seawall necessitated a revision in HeadWaters’ plans. The plans previously submitted to the city included a marina.

The WAVY article notes the seawall is just a portion of “a larger, more than $2.6 billion multi-year effort aimed at better protecting Norfolk from sea level rise. Under the plan, storm-surge barriers, nearly eight miles of floodwalls, nearly one mile of levees, 11 tide gates and 10 pump stations would be constructed around the city.”

Portion of casino must be open by November 2025

Due to a statutory requirement in the voter referendum approved in November 2020, the casino would need to be open for business by November 2025. As PlayVirginia noted in its coverage on Thursday, HeadWaters would be constructed in one continual build under a schedule that would at least allow part of the complex to be open for gaming by that deadline.

That story also noted that while the HeadWaters plan calls for 1,800 to 2,000 gaming machines and 50 table games to be operational, about half of those would be open by the November 2025 deadline should construction be allowed to start in the spring.

Jay Smith, a spokesperson for the HeadWaters project, said he’s optimistic the project will make the deadline.

“We put forward an aggressive but very doable project timeline, and believe that working with the city, we can make this happen.”

Photo by HeadWaters Casino
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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