Pamunkey Indian Tribe Extends Norfolk Casino Land Purchase Deadline to Jan. 2025

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The Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia maintains its “unwavering commitment” to building a first-class casino in Norfolk on the banks of the Elizabeth River. But the federally recognized Native American group says it might need more time before ponying up the $10 million to the City of Norfolk to acquire the 13 acres of vacant land where it plans to build the gaming resort.

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe says it remains steadfast in its commitment to bring Norfolk a premier casino resort. The tribe is working with billionaire Jon Yarbrough to bring the casino vision to reality. (Image: City of Norfolk)

Norfolk city officials selected the Pamunkey Indian Tribe as its preferred casino developer in 2020.

Despite being a small Indian community with less than 100 members living on its sovereign land near West Point along the Pamunkey River and the tribe lacking gaming experience, the city went with the Pamunkeys for its casino opportunity.

The Pamunkeys satisfied financial health concerns by partnering with billionaire Jon Yarbrough, who made his fortune manufacturing games tailored to the tribal gaming industry. With the financial backing of Yarbrough’s firms, Golden Eagle Consulting and Yarbrough Capital, the tribe pitched Norfolk voters a $500 million casino. The local electorate signed off on the plan during the November 2020 election with nearly 68% support.

Land Purchase Deadline Extended

Before the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and Yarbrough pitched Norfolk voters their casino plan called HeadWaters Resort & Casino, the developers negotiated with the city government to purchase the vacant parking lots adjacent to the Harbor Park baseball stadium for $10 million. Over three years, the tribe and billionaire still haven’t acquired the acreage.

The developers initially planned to open a temporary casino inside Harbor Park. It was later determined that Virginia’s 2020 gaming law allowed temporary casinos to operate only at the same address where the permanent casino will operate.

The tribe and Yarbrough then pitched a temporary casino on the 13 acres while construction of the permanent casino would begin. That plan was later scrapped, with a new proposal of building HeadWaters in two development phases, with a casino first and the hotel and resort later.

Norfolk officials balked at that idea and decided to hold the tribe and Yarbrough to the original plan of building the entire complex at once. That brings us to today, with the tribe confirming through a press release that, in September, it exercised its final option to extend the deadline to purchase the 13 acres for $10 million to January 2025.

Site Plan Submitted

Jay Smith, spokesperson for the HeadWaters project, told on Wednesday that progress is being made on bringing the Norfolk casino to reality. The Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Smith said, submitted its preliminary site plan to the City of Norfolk on October 20. The submission followed “months of productive meetings” between city and casino officials.

Our team has been meeting routinely with city staff to review the project plans and discuss the development timeline,” added Robert Gray, Pamunkey chief. “We want to get this project up and running as soon as possible to start generating revenue for our Tribe, for the other recognized Virginia tribes that will benefit from this project, and for the City of Norfolk, its citizens, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Smith explained that the preliminary site submission moves the project closer to final approval and the land acquisition.

“The Tribe plans to file an application for final site plan approval and an application for a Development Certificate prior to Dec. 11, 2023, which will enable the applications to be considered by the Norfolk Architectural Review Board in January 2024 and considered by the Planning Commission in late January 2024, followed by the City Council hearing the applications in February 2024,” Smith detailed.

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