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Pamunkey Indian Tribe signs agreements with Norfolk to buy land, develop casino

The land purchase and development agreements would allow the Pamunkey Indian Tribe to build a casino and resort along the Elizabeth River in Downtown Norfolk.

NORFOLK, Va. — The building of a casino and resort along the Downtown Norfolk waterfront took a big step Monday. 

The Pamunkey Indian tribe signed agreements with the city that will allow the group to buy 13.4 acres of undeveloped property near Harbor Park and allow the tribe to run a casino there.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe and Norfolk have discussed the potential for the project for more than a year. In September 2019, city council members gave the city manager the authority to execute the Opinion to Purchase Agreement and Development Agreement.

Jay Smith, spokesman for the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, said both sides have done follow up since the council's vote. Smith said both sides are waiting on action from state lawmakers before taking any next steps.

"The state is going to dictate what the rules are, like how much taxes are being paid to the state and locality that hosts the casino," Smith said.

He added that if state lawmakers decide to not pass commercial gaming, the deal will not go through and the City of Norfolk "still owns that land and can move forward with it however they want."

In addition to state approval, the casino development could require a voter referendum in November.

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Key terms of the Option to Purchase Agreement include:

  • A term of three years, with the ability to extend the Option Term for up to two additional terms of one year each;
  • Payment to the City of $100,000 per year of the Option Term;
  • A full-value purchase price of $750,000 per acre (totaling more than $10 million), based on an appraisal of the land by an independent third-party appraisal firm approved by both the Tribe and the City;
  • A provision whereby the Tribe must have been given the right to conduct commercial gaming before the land may be purchased; and
  • Required minimum standards with regard to the size, design, and construction of the resort and casino.

Key terms of the Development Agreement include:

  • A requirement that the Tribe complete the project within a to-be-determined amount of time
  • A commitment to negotiate a “Construction and Use Covenant” to govern and regulate the construction and use of the property, including compliance with Virginia Statewide Building Code;
  • A requirement that the Tribe pay for all costs associated with transportation infrastructure, flood mitigation, offsite utility improvements, and any other infrastructure improvements directly necessary for the project; and
  • A commitment to pay for construction of the Elizabeth River Trail through or around the project.

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“The signing of these agreements makes it official – we are partners with Norfolk to bring a world-class resort and casino to the region,” said Pamunkey Indian Chief Robert Gray. “I want to thank the Mayor, those members of Council who have supported our project, the City Administration, and the thousands of people in Norfolk who have welcomed this project with excitement. We can’t wait to get started.”

Before the project can move forward, there are some items that need to be addressed by the Virginia General Assembly.

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Norfolk City Manager Dr. Larry “Chip” Filer put out this statement Monday:

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.

I want to thank Mayor Alexander for his direction and members of Council for their patience and support.

We look forward to:

  1. the legislative outcomes in Richmond that will ultimately determine the size and scope of our resort casino project;
  2. staff analysis of the gaming market;
  3. insights from the gaming committee;
  4. the outcome from Norfolk voters when they go to the polls in November to vote on the gaming referendum.