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Pamunkey Tribe withdraws Norfolk casino development plan

Casino rendering
HeadWaters Resort and Casino
via WHRO
Renderings of the phased development proposal for HeadWaters Resort and Casino, showing only a casino and parking garage — and missing initially promised elements like a major hotel, marina and entertainment venues.

Read the original article on WHRO's website.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe and their development partners have pulled a development application for their planned Norfolk casino.

The plan was set to be presented to Norfolk's Architectural Review Board — a body that oversees building standards before proposals go before the city's Planning Commission.

Despite presenting a $500 million casino development plan years ago, the Pamunkey Tribe contracted it to a $150 million casino and parking garage.

The tribe framed the scaled-down development plan as the first of multiple phases. However, Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander said Monday that the deal the city signed in 2020 with the tribe did not permit a phased development plan.

"We're not going to settle for anything less than (the original plan), and we just want to make sure they understand that," Alexander told WHRO News. "We intend to adhere to what the voters were told as it relates to what we're going to get."

Alexander said his staff had conversations with the tribe's representatives, telling them the application could not be presented to the City Council in its current form. He said more discussions are scheduled about how to move forward.

"If there is something that is keeping them from adhering to the agreement, that's something the council would have to amend," Alexander said.

Jay Smith, a spokesman for the Pamunkey Tribe, says the tribe was following directions from a city letter sent to the tribe on March 1 when it submitted the phased development plan.

The letter says the tribe is required to submit "a complete application" to the city for anything it plans to construct "during the first phase of development" and that the tribe should also plan to describe what will be constructed "in a future phase."

According to an email from Smith, the tribe received another letter from the city on July 14 asking the tribe not to present its phased development application at the review board.

Pamunkey Chief Robert Gray said in the statement that the tribe "intend(s) to follow through on this pledge to build a $500 million resort and casino featuring a high end 300-room hotel and other amenities."

The two parties have scheduled a meeting for July 25.

The Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO reported earlier this month that Norfolk leaders have privately discussed scrapping the development deal with the Pamunkey and seeking a different developer for the casino.

Alexander said Monday that the tribe "is our partner."

Scrapping the deal would leave Norfolk starting nearly from square one for any future casino development.

Early proposals for the casino in 2017 sparked a legislative blitz to open up casino gambling in several Virginia cities in 2018.

While Norfolk's was the first casino to get approval from the state, others have already opened.

Portsmouth's Rivers Casino opened its doors in January, and a casino in Bristol has been operating for over a year in a temporary location while the casino is under construction.

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