‘We Can Make This Happen:’ Norfolk Casino Construction Could Start In Spring

Written By Phil West on December 21, 2023
Rendering of Norfolk's proposed HeadWaters Casino on a story about its construction possibly starting early 2024.

A proposed casino on the Norfolk waterfront is set for an important step next month that could lead to construction starting by the spring – propelling forward a project that’s been in the works for several years.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe has been planning to start developing a casino in Norfolk since voters approved a referendum in November 2020. The proposed HeadWaters Resort and Casino has been in the works since then.

A representative for the project, however, is hopeful that Jan. 8’s Architectural Review Board hearing will be a first step to construction in early 2024.

New casino plans include parking garage under the casino

Virginia lawmakers approved five locations for casinos in 2020: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Richmond. Since then, temporary or permanent casinos have been built in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. Virginia online casinos remain illegal.

Richmond voters have twice rejected a casino proposal in the capital city, while construction of a casino in Norfolk has been hampered by a series of adjustments and delays. A path forward for the Norfolk casino now seems to be emerging.

HeadWaters representative Jay Smith told PlayVirginia this week that he’s optimistic construction can begin soon.

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

The new plan has a smaller footprint than the one previously submitted. Smith says it’s because the previous plan included a marina with the casino. The city is now opting to build a seawall where the marina would have been to mitigate flooding concerns.

Architects for HeadWaters created a new plan that places a parking garage underneath the building. The new plan ensures casino visitors will enjoy views of the waterfront above the seawall.

Deadline for required opening approaching fast

According to a report in the Virginian-Pilot:

In the original agreement between the city and the casino developers, the city would sell about 14 acres of land for the casino project. The tribe has until January 2025 to purchase the land under the terms of the original contract.

Smith told PlayVirginia that should HeadWaters clear the Architectural Review Board hurdle, it would then go before the Planning Commission and then on to the Norfolk City Council for approval. Should the City Council approve sale of the land to the tribe, Smith said construction could start almost immediately.

The project is running up against a deadline, Smith said.

“Part of the statutory requirement is that you’d be open within five years of your referendum passing.”

Because the Norfolk referendum was passed in November 2020, at least a portion of HeadWaters would need to be open for business by November 2025. Smith emphasized that under the current plan, should construction be allowed to begin this coming spring, it would be one continual build of the facility rather than being done in phases.

Smith told the Virginian-Pilot that while the casino would eventually feature “1,800 to 2,000 gaming machines and 50 table games,” he anticipated about half of those would be in place by the November 2025 deadline.

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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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