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Norfolk Casino Needs More Time to Finalize Resort Blueprint

by California Digital News

Posted on: January 23, 2024, 02:25h. 

Last updated on: January 23, 2024, 02:28h.

The development team behind the long-delayed Norfolk casino project was supposed to present its latest construction blueprint to the city’s Architectural Review Board (ARB) on Monday. No plan was presented.

Norfolk casino HeadWaters Pamunkey Tribe
Project plans for the Norfolk Coastal Storm Risk Management Project show where a floodwall will be constructed. The seawall butts against the proposed casino site of the HeadWaters Resort & Casino project. (Image: US Army Corps of Engineers)

Instead, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe — the city’s selected gaming partner for the lone casino opportunity — said more time is needed to address concerns raised by local government officials. The tribe and its partner on the project, billionaire Jon Yarbrough, want to build a commercial casino resort on the banks of the Elizabeth River adjacent to Harbor Park.

The Pamunkey Tribe has continued to work diligently with its architecture and engineering teams to produce the additional design work necessary to address the direction provided by City Council,” Jay Smith, a spokesperson for the project, told

“Until that work is completed, we have asked for a continuance before the ARB. As soon as we are confident that the plans meet the needs of the City and Tribe, we will ask to be put on the ARB agenda,” Smith continued. “We know so many residents of Norfolk share our eagerness to open HeadWaters Resort & Casino, and once the design is completed, we will employ an aggressive construction schedule to bring this project to life.”

HeadWaters has undergone a slew of design overhauls since Norfolk voters signed off on the development through a local referendum during the November 2020 election. The ground remains unbroken over three years later.

Seawall Setback

The latest design setback for the HeadWaters development was due to Norfolk’s $2.6 billion Coastal Storm Risk Management Project, which is to include the construction of a seawall near where the casino is to be built.

Norfolk has one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise (RSLR) among Atlantic coastal communities. Federal, state, and local officials say that puts the city at an elevated risk of flooding and damage from coastal storms such as nor’easters and hurricanes.

Part of the project includes a downtown floodwall. The 17-foot-high T-wall includes sturdy concrete walls shaped like an upside-down T to strengthen the river bank. The floodwall will span nearly eight miles along the Elizabeth’s north shore.

HeadWaters originally intended to include a marina where boaters could dock and visit the resort, ballpark, and nearby businesses. But the seawall project rendered those plans unattainable and sent the developers back to the drawing board.

The latest rendering of the casino — made public in December — moved the resort slightly inland to accommodate the stormwater undertaking. The $500 million concept features a 300-room hotel with 18,000 square feet of event space. The casino spans 65,000 square feet with 1,000 slot machines, 25 table games, and a 180-seat sportsbook.

Resort amenities include several restaurants and bars, a spa, and a 1,200-space parking garage.

Norfolk’s 2020 gaming referendum gave the project five years to open. The November 2025 deadline is now seemingly quickly approaching.

City Demands One Construction Phase

The HeadWaters developers previously suggested building the resort in stages, with the casino first and the hotel and resort later. City officials rejected that plan on the grounds that their host agreement with the tribe requires the resort to be built at once.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander said the tribe’s proposal to stagger the development “was unacceptable.”

Virginia lawmakers in 2020 passed legislation allowing five cities to consider casino projects. Along with Norfolk, voters in Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville subsequently passed local referendums approving their city’s selected casino resort. Richmond was the only city to vote against a gaming development.

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