Pamunkey tribe, city sign Norfolk casino agreements
Tribe has option to purchase 13.4 acres by Elizabeth River for $10 million.
The city of Norfolk and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced Monday that the tribe’s proposed $700 million casino along the Elizabeth River is moving closer to reality.
According to a tribe press release Monday, the Pamunkey and the city have signed two agreements: an option to purchase 13.4 acres of undeveloped city property adjacent to Harbor Park for more than $10 million, and a developmental agreement that will govern and regulate the resort.
Under the option-to-purchase agreement announced Monday, the tribe would have a term of three years to buy the land, with the option to extend the term twice for one year each; a full-value purchase price of $750,000 per acre based on a third party’s appraisal of the land; and a provision to allow the tribe the right to conduct commercial gaming before the land is purchased.
The development agreement requires that the tribe complete the project by a yet-to-be-determined deadline and pay for all transportation and infrastructure improvements, as well as construction of a trail around the resort.
“The signing of these agreements makes it official — we are partners with Norfolk to bring a world-class resort and casino to the region,” Chief Robert Gray said in a statement.
Jon Yarbrough, the billionaire founder of Tennessee’s Video Gaming Technologies who now runs a private investment firm, has partnered with the tribe to build the casino. He has a long history with the Native American gaming industry and purchased property in New Kent County in 2018.
Last September, Norfolk City Council voted to grant the city manager authority to execute the agreements, after the casino plan was announced in December 2018.
The Pamunkey Tribe has decided to pursue a commercial route for building the casino, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander announced in December, instead of a federal tribal casino, which would have required approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior. The General Assembly is currently considering legislation to allow commercial casinos in Virginia.
The Pamunkey reservation is east of Richmond in King William County by the Pamunkey River, where 85 tribal members live. Gray said in a November 2019 interview with Virginia Business that he hopes to bring more members of the tribe back to Virginia and improve housing, infrastructure and educational options for them.
Norfolk is considered part of the tribe’s ancestral homelands, he said, “where we live, where we hunted, trapped, traded with other tribes.”
The casino met with some opposition from the Nansemond Tribe, which lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake, and voiced concern about preserving their own history and heritage in the region if the project went forward. Also, some city residents tried to overturn the 7-1 City Council vote with an anti-casino petition last fall, but the effort failed.
“I am pleased to announce that we have reached mutually agreeable terms with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to pursue a resort project that will conform and comply with commercial gaming legislation being considered in Virginia,” Norfolk City Manager Larry “Chip” Filer said in a statement Monday.
He added that pending legislation in the General Assembly will determine the “size and scope of our resort casino project,” and Norfolk voters will vote on a gaming referendum in November. City staff also will report on the gaming market, Filer said in his statement.
Other casino projects have been proposed across the state, including a deal in Washington County between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and developer Steve Johnson, and the Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino in the former Bristol Mall. Other possible locations include Richmond, Portsmouth and Danville.