Norfolk casino developers pull plans from public review again, citing ‘additional design work’

Plans for the Norfolk casino were once again pulled by the planners before a public review Monday.

It’s the second time this month HeadWaters Resort and Casino applicants have pulled the plans before a meeting of the Architectural Review Board. The casino project was listed on the ARB’s Monday agenda but was struck and listed as “continued by applicant” on Sunday.

Spokesperson for HeadWaters, Jay Smith, said the plans were pulled so architecture and engineering teams could “produce the additional design work necessary to address the direction provided by City Council.”

“Until that work is completed, we have asked for a continuance before the ARB,” Smith wrote in an email response to questions about the project. “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.”

It was unclear how delays will affect the project timeline. An ARB meeting is the first step for the casino plans before they eventually go to the Planning Commission and then City Council for approval. The plans must be approved before the city-owned land can be sold to developers.

After plans were previously pulled from ARB consideration earlier this month, Smith said the applicants did so after meeting with City Council members and city staff to “discuss a number of issues concerning the project and site.” He said the casino representatives were working to address those concerns, but provided no further detail.

Smith has previously said approval is needed as soon as possible so construction can begin this spring and meet the November 2025 statutory deadline for gaming to begin.

The Headwaters project is a partnership between the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Tennessee billionaire Jon Yarbrough and Golden Eagle Consulting executive John Thompson to build a hotel casino resort along the Elizabeth River, next to Harbor Park.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander reiterated Monday that the ball is in the casino applicants’ court.

“I still await them to turn in what’s required based on the development agreement. The development agreement spells out what they should be submitting,” he said.

Alexander said city leaders have not amended the original agreement that the public voted on and there is nothing before council to do so. He said plans for the casino must adhere to the language of the 2020 referendum approved by voters.

The city doesn’t want to get an application submitted at the 11th hour because it is still going to scrutinize that plan based on the original agreement, the mayor said.

“If (the casino) doesn’t happen, it’s not on the city of Norfolk, this will solely rest with the developer and the applicant,” he said.

Headwaters representatives presented one iteration of casino development plans to the ARB in July — a two-phase development approach that envisioned building and opening the 65,000-square foot casino floor before the 300-room hotel and resort. But planners withdrew that plan from consideration after city officials made clear they wanted an application to include details about the entirety of the project in one submission for approval.

Alexander said Monday he still does not have such details, like a schedule for construction of the entire project, which he wants to be able to share with taxpayers.

The latest Headwaters plans call for a rolling construction cycle that would put the about half the casino games and tables open by November 2025 in a structure north of the Elizabeth River Trail.

In numerous interviews, Alexander has said the City Council expects the applicants to deliver the kind of quality casino with the amenities and offerings voters approved in the referendum.

“We have a team ready to focus on (proposed casino plans) and make those comments if need be but we can’t make comments on something that hasn’t been submitted,” Alexander previously said.

Ian Munro, 757-447-4097, ian.munro@virginiamedia.com